Army Unit Sees Less Terror Activity in Southwestern Iraq
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2005 After nearly a year since their posting in southwestern Iraq, a U.S. Army commander today said he and his 4,200 soldiers have witnessed decreased terrorist activity in their area of operations.
Army Sgt. Brince Conerly (left) team leader, 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 155th Brigade Combat Team, Mississippi Army National Guard, provides forward security while fellow soldiers prepare to enter an Iraqi village in search of information about insurgent activity in Iskandariyah, Iraq, May 19. Photo by Pfc. Matthew Clifton, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Brig. Gen. Augustus L. Collins commands the 155th Brigade Combat Team. Since February, his unit has been responsible for security and stability operations in Babil, Karbala and Najaf provinces, with a detachment in eastern Anbar province.
"Actually, the attacks that we have now compared to attacks we had when we first got here and took over our battlespace in February are at least down by 50 percent," Collins told Pentagon reporters during a satellite teleconference.
The 155th is a mix of National Guard soldiers from Mississippi, Iowa, Vermont, Utah, Arkansas and Puerto Rico, as well as a squadron of active troops from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Irwin, Calif. The unit falls under the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force during its Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment.
The 155th's soldiers have conducted more than 500 operations so far during their tour in Iraq, Collins said, ranging from the brigade level down to company- and platoon-level participation.
Those operations are partly responsible for the decreased enemy activity in his sector, Collins said, noting his soldiers have netted nearly 1,500 enemy captives and seized 2,800 weapons. Almost 200 attacks occurred monthly in his area almost a year ago, Collins said, compared to about 100 per month now.
Collins said Iraqi citizens and local government efforts also deserve much credit for the reduced terrorist activity.
"When we first got here, the people didn't really talk to us that much," Collins said, "but now they've opened up to us. And they see that the way to peace is through this democratic idea that we're trying to share with them."
Collins said his staff works closely with Iraqi provincial officials to identify their humanitarian and rebuilding needs. And local Iraqi citizens are now working with U.S. and Iraqi security forces to root out terrorists, he said.
"They're helping us find the insurgents and then turn them over to us, to where we can arrest them and get them off the street," the general said.
Collins' soldiers have confiscated enemy weapons caches containing 18,000 munitions, which, he said, has helped to reduce the effectiveness of terrorist attacks in the area.
"We've taken a lot of the things that the enemy was using against us to try to kill or hurt our soldiers," Collins explained, "so now they don't have as robust an inventory of things to use as they once did."
Collins said Iraqi soldiers and police are taking a larger role in security operations in his area of operations. In fact, the Iraq police and army now have responsibility for security in the city of Najaf, he said.
"Tbey have done a great job," Collins said, "as far as being able to provide a safe and secure environment for the people of Najaf." Many buildings have been renovated in Najaf, and the markets are open, he said.
"Everything is going in the right direction as far as Najaf is concerned," the general said, noting that religious pilgrims have begun returning to Najaf to visit its famous shrine.
Collins said his troops helped to renovate part of the Najaf Teaching Hospital that now treats 400 patients daily. And after renovations, the city's soccer stadium reopened in October for a game between the Baghdad and Najaf clubs, he said, that attracted 20,000 spectators.
Iraqi army soldiers and police have received weapons, uniforms, vehicles and increased training during the past year, Collins said. Thanks to better equipment and training, he noted, the police have become a much more professional force.
Collins said he is very impressed with the two Iraqi army brigades and the three battalions that operate across the three provinces. "They have really increased in their ability since we first got here," Collins said, noting his soldiers routinely conduct operations and training with Iraqi troops.
Iraqi soldiers and police will take the lead security role for the Dec. 15 Iraq election voting in his sector, Collins said. His troops will be positioned to provide security assistance if required, he said.
"Right now, based on the last two elections and, I think, the progress that the Iraqi security forces have made, we really don't anticipate having to do anything on election day," Collins said.
Collins saluted his soldiers and offered his condolences to the families of those who have been killed or wounded.
"For the last 11 months, I've had the opportunity to serve with the absolute best soldiers that the United States has to offer," Collins said. "Every day they surprise me with their level of commitment."
Collins expressed his sentiments toward the soldiers who have given their lives. "Words can't express the grief that we have," he said. "Those soldiers were our friends. We fought alongside of them. We miss them, and they will always be heroes in our eyes."