Coalition, Iraqi Troops Target Al Qaeda Forces in Mosul
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 3, 2008 Coalition and Iraqi security forces are targeting al Qaeda terrorists who have taken refuge in Mosul after fleeing Baghdad in the wake of surge operations, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said yesterday.
“Mosul, as you know, is the center of al Qaeda terrorist activities today,” Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
Al Qaeda had sought to use Baghdad as the center of its operations in Iraq, Smith noted. But now that they’ve been largely driven out of the Iraqi capital, he said, Mosul has become al Qaeda’s “strategic center of gravity.”
Mosul provides a meeting point for foreign fighters operating in Iraq, Smith said. And, Mosul’s diverse ethnic makeup, he added, helps terrorists to blend in among the city’s population.
Al Qaeda’s interest in Mosul is readily apparent, Smith said.
“We can track Mosul’s importance to the terrorists themselves,” the admiral said. “Between half and two-thirds of the attacks we chart across Iraq each day occur in and around this city, but we are making progress.”
Coalition and Iraqi forces have captured or killed 142 al Qaeda terrorists in Mosul since the start of the year, Smith said. One of those terrorists, seized during a Feb. 18 operation, was a top Mosul-based al Qaeda leader involved in foreign-terrorist transport, suicide bombings and kidnappings, the admiral said.
The capture of this terrorist “led us to make significant gains in intelligence on al Qaeda’s operations in and around Mosul,” Smith said. Information gained from the capture of the terrorist led to the recent deaths of two other senior al Qaeda leaders operating in Mosul who were killed during a coalition air strike, he said.
The two terrorists’ deaths resulted “in a significant setback for al Qaeda’s plans in Mosul,” Smith said. Yet, many al Qaeda operatives remain in Mosul, he said, adding that some have fled the city to avoid capture by coalition and Iraqi forces.
Meanwhile, coalition and Iraqi security forces posted in and around Mosul continue aggressively to pursue al Qaeda operatives in the region, Smith said.
Yet, “the progress we are making against al Qaeda in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq is due largely to the cooperation of the Iraqi people, who are rejecting the (terrorists’) extremism and violence,” Smith emphasized.
“The people of Mosul are standing up to al Qaeda,” Smith reported. However, he added: “There is still much work to be done.”