Coalition Plans to Keep Insurgents on Run, Commander Says
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2004 Successful military operations in Fallujah, Iraq, have put insurgents and foreign fighters on the run, and the military commander of coalition forces in Iraq said today the city is "no longer held hostage to terror."
In an interview from Baghdad with the Pentagon Channel, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said coalition forces have taken a "major step forward" in the campaign to end the insurgent stronghold that has held the city captive.
He said Iraqi and coalition forces have eliminated the center of terrorist and insurgent activity and returned the city to the control of the legitimate Iraqi government.
Casey said successful military operations in Fallujah, which he called the planning, staging and logistics base for insurgents and foreign fighters, have scattered the enemy.
"He (the enemy -- terrorists and foreign fighters) has lost his base of operations and logistics. He is unsettled and he's in new areas," Casey explained. "We intend to use this window now to keep him on the run, we'll weaken his intimidation campaign and deny him sanctuary."
To prove Fallujah was a hub for insurgent activity, Casey pointed out that coalition forces found more than 340 weapon caches stored in the city, compared to 142 caches found throughout the entire country last month.
In addition, he said, coalition forces found ledgers that listed fighters coming into Fallujah from different countries. "We believe we have evidence of over 20 countries having terrorists that have come through Fallujah at one time or another" Casey said. "So we are fairly satisfied that it was, in fact, the foreign terrorist safe haven that we thought it was."
Casey said one of the major goals of military operations in Fallujah in November, and similar operations in Samarra in October, was to eliminate terrorist safe havens in Iraq as the country moves toward January elections.
Casey said eliminating Fallujah as a safe haven "will go a long way" toward helping the Iraqi people hold safe elections in January, and that a free and prosperous Iraq will exert a stabilizing effect on the Middle East region.
"As we analyzed the situation over the summer, it became clear to us that we could not safely get to free elections in January if we still had terrorist safe havens across Iraq," the general explained. "Frankly, no government could allow a terrorist operation to operate with impunity 30 miles from the capital.
"We now intend to keep the heat on the terrorists by pursuing them into the new locations that they've gone into and to continue the disruption of their efforts while we have them on the run," he added.
However, Casey also cautioned, "progress towards elections will be tough," as parts of the country still are not safe for elections.
In the aftermath of Fallujah, Casey said, the coalition hopes to focus efforts on providing better security in Ramadi, capital of the Anbar province, as well as in Mosul and Baghdad.
"We believe a solution in Ramadi in now obtainable, now that Fallujah has been eliminated as a terrorist safe haven," he said. "The whole Al Anbar province is an area of difficulty for the interim government, and we will work very hard to bring the security situation there to the point where they have election in January."
Regarding Mosul, where Iraqi security and coalition forces restored control after the police collapsed in early November, Casey said, "It's still not where we need it to be for elections, and we will continue to work with the Iraqi security forces and the governor to bring a higher level of security to Mosul."
In Baghdad, where the level of violence has gone down, Casey said, the plan is to "keep the pressure on insurgents that may have left Fallujah and settled in the greater Baghdad area."
"So what you'll see in the next 60 days is a series of operations to enhance security in those three critical regions," he said.
Casey said much of that security will come from Iraqi security forces, as training and equipping those forces continues to go well. The general said that by the end of December there will 18 battalions in the new Iraqi army, and nine more will be added by the end of January.
In addition, 45 Iraqi National Guard battalions will be trained and equipment by January. "That will bring us to about 72 battalions that be available for providing election security," he said.
Training for local police also continues to get better. About 2,500 officers graduate each month from training academies, Casey said, adding that that number is expected to rise to about 5,000 a month starting next year.
Meanwhile, reconstruction efforts throughout Iraq are slowly building momentum, though, the general added, it is a difficult process due to the security situation. "As the security situation gets better, we have every indication that the economic development is also going to get faster," he said.
Since the transition of sovereignty, there were about 250 construction projects started. Now, more than 1,000 projects worth some $2.5 billion and employing more than 100,000 Iraqis have been started, he noted.
"We're moving in the right direction, but (slowly)," he said.
The reconstruction situation is different in Fallujah, where Casey said the Iraqi government is moving quickly to start reconstruction and reestablish the rule of law. He said the city will get $100 million in support, and some 100 projects to rebuild the city will begin in the next few months.
For the thousands who fled the city prior to the fighting, Casey said that humanitarian assistance is being provided to those areas where people fled. He said a very small number of families are still in the city, and they are being cared for by U.S. Marines.
Though the general did not give a specific date, he said, "We would expect people to begin returning to Fallujah in the very near future."
Casey also said the United States can take great pride in the work coalition and Iraqi forces are achieving, and that servicemembers and Iraqi security forces there are doing a magnificent job.
"Our success to date is a tribute to the great men and women of the Iraqi security forces and the coalition who have given their lives to defeat terrorism and help the Iraqi people to a build a better life," he said.
"We grieve with the loved ones of all of our servicemembers and with those of Iraqi servicemembers who have died. We are humbled by their sacrifice and their contribution to bringing freedom to 25 million Iraqis," Casey said. "And we are humbled by their sacrifice in enhancing the security of the U.S. and the coalition.
"I can assure that each and every one of them recognizes the importance that successfully accomplishing this mission holds for our security," the general continued. "I couldn't be prouder of these wonderful men and women."