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Western Anbar on the Right Track, Commander Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2006 – U.S. forces in western Anbar province have made great progress in the fight against insurgents and efforts to secure the Iraq-Syria border, a U.S. commander in the area said today.

U.S. Marines recently took an important step in making the area more prohibitive to insurgents by enclosing the city of Rutbah in berms and establishing entry-control points, Marine Col. Stephen Davis, commander of Regimental Combat Team 2, said at a news conference. Rutbah, which sits astride two major supply routes, was the object of Operation Western Shield, Davis said.

"This town had the unfortunate occurrence of being strategically placed there -- very convenient for smugglers, terrorists, insurgents to operate in and out of there," he said. "And we've been gratified to find most all of the people the live in the town thanking the Marines and the Iraqi soldiers that are working these tactical control points, coming in and out -- thanking them for ridding the town of the bad guys, in their words."

Operations along the Syrian border continue to progress, and the villages along the border now are getting consistent power, clean water, and new schools and hospitals, Davis said. Border forts are established, and terrorists do not have freedom to move between the two countries, he said.

"A mark of the progress that's occurred up there is I was able to walk the Syrian border from the Euphrates down to Camp Gannon the other day and then drive from there all through Obeidi and across the river into the Rommana area -- something that was absolutely unheard of a year ago," Davis said.

Iraqi and U.S. forces have permanent combined presence in 15 towns throughout western Anbar, including all the major population centers, Davis said. Iraqi forces are fully integrated into all U.S. operations and conduct missions on their own, he said. The Iraqis still rely on the U.S. for some support, he said, but they are headed in the right direction.

"They are making good progress when you consider what it takes, especially to stand up a nation's military essentially from scratch in the course of a year, year and a half," he said.

Mentoring provided by the U.S. forces helps prevent sectarian conflicts within the Iraqi security forces, Davis said, because they provide an example of how to put aside ethnic and religious differences in favor of a greater cause.

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