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Iraqis Helping Troops Find Weapons Caches, General Says

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2007 – Iraqis in the country’s north, fed up with ongoing violence, are leading U.S. and Iraqi forces to some of the largest weapons and bombs caches found in the region to date, the commander of Multinational Division North told Pentagon reporters today.

This comes as U.S. troops in that area are handing off most counterinsurgency missions to Iraqi forces, allowing U.S. troops to focus on killing or capturing those who finance, make and emplace the deadly improvised explosive devices, said Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Multinational Division North and the 25th Infantry Division.

So far this year, his forces have nearly doubled the monthly averages for finding IED caches, Mixon told reporters in the Pentagon via a satellite link from Contingency Operating Base Speicher, outside of Tikrit. The forces also have doubled the monthly average for killing the insurgents who use them, he said.

“The enemy is ruthless in using IEDs,” Mixon said. “We are equally as aggressive and violent in our approach to defeat them.”

Mixon said a cache found last week in Diyala had enough material to make about 130 “explosively formed projectiles,” as well as military-grade rockets and mortars, the largest find of that type so far. While EFPs make up only one percent of IEDs used against coalition forces, they are among the most deadly.

The find was part of an Iraqi forces-led mission and was based on a tip by a local informant, Mixon said. No arrests were made, but officials are still working with the informant to identify insurgents involved.

Locals are more willing to lead coalition forces to weapons and bombs caches partly because of the increased presence of Iraqi forces, Mixon said.

“The population areas that we work in are more comfortable with the Iraqi security forces … so they are providing us more tips. Some of those tips come in through the tips lines. Some are as simple as a civilian walking in and providing information. So their comfort level is up,” he said.

Another large cache found recently in Mosul included homemade explosive materials, such as fertilizers and acids often used in car bombs.

Because of their recent focus on insurgents using IEDs, the threat has gone down in the area, Mixon said. Also, changes in enemy tactics are posted on an IED Web page that leaders access.

In addition, body armor and protective gear help keep soldiers alive if hit. In fact, 76 percent of soldiers injured by such explosives are able to return to duty, he said. His troops also are getting better at spotting planted bombs, the general said.

Still, despite recent successes, Mixon said, much more work is needed in the region, where more civilians die from IED attacks than do security forces.

“We have a long way to go to defeat this threat. Too many of our casualties are as a result of the IEDs. I am not satisfied and will not be satisfied until I dramatically reduce the numbers of casualties caused by IEDs,” he said.

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