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Securing Gains, Training Police Priorities for 2006 in Anbar Province

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq, Jan. 1, 2006 – Securing gains made and training local police are keys to victory over terrorists here in Anbar province, the commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force Forward said today.

In the past few months, U.S. Marines and soldiers have aggressively attacked insurgents throughout the province, Marine Maj. Gen. Stephen Johnson, who is also commander of Multinational Force West, said. Coalition forces went into known insurgent areas and remained in those areas to ensure insurgents did not come back, Johnson said. "We are able to do this now because we have trained Iraqi troops who can hold the areas," the general said.

Johnson spoke to reporters traveling with Marine Gen. Peter Pace. Pace is in the region leading a United Service Organizations show tour of the U.S. Central Command region.

Johnson said consolidating gains made by the coalition is first among his priorities for 2006. Coalition forces will continue to hunt for insurgents and foreign fighters throughout the province, he said.

He added that the presence of coalition forces in many cities and towns encouraged Iraqis of this primarily Sunni Arab province to vote in the national election. After recording just a 4 percent voter turnout in January 2005 elections, December elections saw more than 50 percent of voters going to the polls, Iraqi officials said.

Coalition and Iraqi army forces are providing stability in the region and will continue to do so for the near future, Johnson said. In the meantime, Iraqi officials have begun recruiting and training local police. Establishing the rule of law and enforcing those rules equitably are keys to a successful democracy, Johnson said.

Anbar is the Iraqi province slowest to recruit and train local police. Part of the reason is that it is impossible to underestimate hom much insurgents have intimidated the population, officials said. Insurgents have killed men, women and children indiscriminately in the province.

Johnson predicted 2006 will be "the year of the police" in Anbar province. The Iraqi government is vetting those who have applied to be local police in the province. Those selected will attend police academies in Baghdad or in Jordan. Once they graduate, coalition military forces and police experts will partner with the units to continue their training. "That's at the heart of the success with the Iraqi military -- this partnership aspect," Johnson said. "The same will be true of the police."

As Iraqi police become more proficient, first coalition and then Iraqi army forces will be able to pull back and allow local police to take the lead in enforcing the law, Johnson said. "This will take work and patience," he said. "But we can do it."

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