Coalition Has 'Turned Corner' in Western Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2004 Coalition forces have "turned the corner" in western Iraq, said Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., 82nd Airborne Division commander, during a Baghdad press conference today.
The general also said the coalition is "on a glide path to success" in the region. He said attacks against Task Force All-American forces have decreased almost 60 percent in the past month.
The task force covers Anbar province in western Iraq. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment is part of the force.
Swannack said the soldiers are making great progress against the former regime cells and the financial network that funded those cells. He held up an improvised rocket-propelled grenade launcher captured by 82nd troopers as proof that the enemy is running out of resources. He said the number of attacks dropped from about 15 to 19 a day in October to zero to three or four a day now. "What's more, the effectiveness of the attacks has dropped," he said.
The improvised equipment and untrained forces cause attacks to misfire. Swannack estimated there were "about 100" members of the anti-coalition cells, and he estimated that five or six cells operate in the province.
The general listed three reasons for the decline in attacks. First, the task force uses aggressive tactics to find and kill or capture anti-coalition forces.
"We have killed or captured a large number of the leaders, the financiers and facilitators or the insurgency," he said. "We're not done yet, as there are a lot more of those folks out there."
He said, however, that soldiers have been able to remove the leaders who recruited, directed and supplied cells for attacks on coalition forces.
Swannack said the capture of Saddam Hussein provided a boost throughout his area. Those Iraqis who wanted Saddam back in power have lost all hope that could happen, while those who feared the dictator would return to power have lost that fear, he said.
As a result, local people are cooperating with coalition forces. He said tips on the command's hotline have jumped 50 percent. Local people are telling coalition soldiers about anti-coalition forces, foreign fighters, where improvised explosive devices are planted and where weapons caches are hidden.
The task force has spent a lot of time and energy in developing, training and equipping Iraqi security forces. Division soldiers helped train 1,300 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members. The security force still needs trucks and radios, but those have been approved, and Swannack said he expects them to be available in the next 60 to 90 days.
Of the 6,500 Iraqi police in the province, some 370 have been retrained and are working to teach the new tactics and policies to their fellow officers, the general said.
The second thrust is to create jobs to employ military-age males in productive employment, Swannack said. He estimated about 16,000 jobs have been created in the province. This is about half the goal the general set last year.
Finally, the task force works to consolidate and destroy the vast amounts of military hardware left over from Saddam's regime. Soldiers and local Iraqis have destroyed 72 of 91 known weapons caches. This keeps the weapons out of the hands of anti-coalition forces.
Swannack said that although some potholes exist in the road ahead, he is working with local leaders to turn control of the region over to local councils. "We're on track to refresh the local provincial council this month," he said. "This will start the process of election of delegates for the new transitional government.
"We have turned the corner, and now we can accelerate down the straightaway," he continued. "There's still a long way to go before the finish line, but the final outcome is known."