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Task Force Commander Says Insurgents 'Desperate, Isolated'

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2004 – Insurgents operating against the coalition and Iraqi security forces have become "desperate and isolated" in their attempts to stop progress, the commander of the latest task force to arrive in Iraq said today.

During a briefing from Baghdad, Army Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia, told reporters that insurgent activity continues in the north, where his unit took over military operations in early February.

"We see this enemy taking the shape of former regime elements, extremists, as well as foreign fighters and international terrorists," he said. "Those cells, I believe, are becoming extremely desperate and isolated."

Task Force Olympia is made up of some 6,000 personnel of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Lewis, Wash. The unit has an additional 2,000 combat engineers, military police, civil affairs and combat service support units attached to it.

Another 12,000 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, Iraqi Army and police also are assigned to the unit, which is training them in border patrol and anti- insurgent operations.

The unit assumed responsibility for coalition military operations in northern Iraq Feb. 5, taking over for the 101st Airborne Division.

Ham said he believes attacks in the past weeks against coalition and Iraqi security forces have been designed to dissuade Iraqis from contributing to the future of their nation.

"To me, that indicates the desperate nature of our enemy in that regard," he said.

Ham said that while some terrorist threats in the north result from cross- border operations by small groups of insurgents, there are also indications that Baathists and other former regime elements are becoming smaller in numbers and that they are "losing their influence."

Meanwhile, Ham said, one of his highest priorities for Task Force Olympia has been building on to the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.

Though training, organization and equipment shortfalls within Iraq's security forces have been an issue, Ham said, the Task Force is working through those challenges.

"Our job is to help them through that," Ham told reporters. "To find for them the equipment, to provide for them the training and to advise them so that they can become increasingly responsible for their own security."

The general said this week's signing of an interim constitution and the June 30 handover of sovereignty will not mean a significant change in the security situation. He said it is "very clear" that coalition forces are going to be needed for some time in Iraq, and that there is "every likelihood" that terrorists will increase their attacks on Iraqi security and coalition forces.

The task force will continue to train Iraqis with the goal of having them assume responsibility for their country's security, Ham said, but the job needs to be done right.

"In my view, the sooner we can do that the better it will be for all, but we must make sure they are properly trained and experienced before we hand over full responsibility to them," he said.

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