Tal Afar Has Restored Hope, Life, Commander Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2006 The efforts of the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces in Tal Afar, Iraq, have transformed the region from an insurgent hotbed to an area of life and hope with restored security, a U.S. military commander in the area said today.
When the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment arrived in the region in summer 2005, Tal Afar was a support base that insurgents used to organize, train and equip terrorist cells, the unit's commander, Army Col. H.R. McMaster, said in a live news conference from Tikrit. Insurgents were drawn to the area because of its access to external support through Syria and its tendency toward sectarian conflict, he said.
Insurgents terrorized the people of Tal Afar, making them afraid to cooperate with coalition or Iraqi security forces, McMaster said. An average of five civilians were killed each day, and the insurgents spread anti-coalition propaganda, he said.
"This enemy was particularly brutal, and this enemy had choked the life out of the city," he said.
Through Operation Restoring Rights, conducted between August and October, U.S. and Iraqi forces were able to address main problems in the city and reverse damage insurgents had done, McMaster said.
The first problem addressed was security, McMaster said. Once insurgents were subdued, the entire atmosphere of the city changed and people returned, he said.
Another issue was political participation, McMaster said. It was impossible for the people of Tal Afar to participate in previous elections because of the insurgents, he said. But in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and Dec. 15 election, 90 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
Sectarian violence is ending in Tal Afar, McMaster said. Before the operation, Turkmen Sunnis, who comprise 75 percent of the population, were not able to join the police force because of threats to their families. Now, all citizens work together on a police force that has grown from 150 to 1,765, and the people want to reconcile their differences, he said.
"We began to see the Iraqis taking more and more ownership of this reconciliation process, meeting on their own, for example," he said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces are also restoring basic services to Tal Afar, McMaster said. Before the operation, about 60 percent of the people had electricity and 40 percent had water. Now, virtually all the people have both services, he said.
Statistics can prove success to a certain point, McMaster said, but the most convincing proof is what is only visible to troops on the ground.
"The most tangible thing we can see is the people are happy," he said. "Hope is rekindled; children rush to our soldiers; people spontaneously express their gratitude to us and the Iraqi army. There are bonds of trust, mutual respect and common purpose forming between the Iraqi army and the people."
The success of operations in Tal Afar can be attributed to a few things, McMaster said. Cooperation between Iraqi government leaders, security forces and police created a unity that inspired confidence in the people, he said. "The people of Tal Afar understood that this was an operation for them, an operation to bring back security to the city," he said.
The insurgents' brutality also contributed to U.S. and Iraqi success, because it isolated insurgents from the people and revealed their true intentions of making the city fail, McMaster said.
The operation couldn't have been successful without the discipline, dedication, compassion and endurance of the U.S. soldiers, he said. "Our soldiers ought to be exhausted now, but they're not," he said. "It seems like we're gaining energy every day because we see the difference we are making in real people's lives."
Attacks in Tal Afar have decreased significantly, McMaster said, and the insurgents are no longer organized and can't move freely. Citizens are providing tips to the Iraqi army, many times right after incidents occur, he said. In one dramatic case, a tip came in immediately after a mortar attack and the Iraqi police responded and captured the individuals responsible right away.
Iraqi people in the area are tired of the insurgents' violence and are committed to making positive changes, with many of them volunteering for the police force despite threats, McMaster said.
"I guess what people don't get to see is ... how resolute and how determined these courageous Iraqis are," he said. "There are so many good people in this country who deserve security and who are doing everything they can to build a future for their families, their towns and their country."