Anbar Province Progressing in Spite of Challenges
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2007 When additional troops arrive in Iraq's Anbar Province, they will be welcomed and put to work, said the commander of a regimental combat team responsible for more than 30,000 square miles in the area.
“I don’t think there’s a commander in any conflict in American history that wouldn’t say he’d take more forces,” Marine Col. William Crowe, commander of Regimental Combat Team 7, told reporters today during a video teleconference from Asad, Iraq. “When we do get additional forces … my commanding general knows where they need to go. And when they come here, he’ll make that decision."
President Bush said he will send 4,000 additional troops to the province under his new strategy for the war in Iraq.
Crowe’s area of operation, known as AO Denver, covers an area roughly the size of South Carolina - and includes the cities of Ramadi, Qaim, Haditha, Hit and Fallujah.
The area includes sections of Iraq’s border with Syria and Jordan, meaning Crowe must train the Iraqi border guards. He said great strides have been made in this area.
“A year ago, when (the Iraqi guards) conducted operations they would not move unless they had forces from my command standing by as a quick reaction force,” he said. “Over the past two weeks, they have operated independently, going into ‘no man’s land,’ arresting 50-100 persons (who had falsified documents).”
Regimental Combat Team 7 is also responsible for preventing insurgents gaining any influence in Ramadi, Fallujah and, ultimately, Baghdad. Another key part of the team’s role is to enable Iraqi security forces to operate independently in the area, Crowe said.
This presented somewhat of a challenge since, Crowe said, there were no Iraqi police officers in the area of operation when he arrived.
“I’m proud to announce today that there’s over 3,000 Iraqi (police officers) … in AO Denver,” Crowe said. “Our goals were to (recruit) close to 4,000 Iraqi police this year, and we recruited over 3,000 (currently).”
Crowe said there are hundreds more police recruits currently in training and another 50 left for training this week.
Recruiting for the police force is much easier than for the army, however, he admitted. A soldier may be stationed anywhere in the country, but a police officer can go home to their families at night.
“We’ve shifted our focus toward the Iraqi army because we need to build the local Iraqi forces that are familiar with that terrain,” he said. “We still have a ways to go in recruitment of Iraqi soldiers … our priority now is taking young Sunni men from the Western Euphrates River Valley and bringing them in to the Iraqi army.”
To successfully recruit, however, Crowe said he has to have the support of the local community. That support is gained through securing the population, something the coalition presence in the area helps accomplish. He said he is also working with local tribes to gain the confidence of their leaders, and that work appears to be paying off.
“As we’ve detained individuals, we’ve had local nationals clapping as the Iraqi army, Iraqi police and the Marines have brought in individuals that (the citizens) know are bad, but in the past they might have been too afraid to point them out because of what would happen if they did,” Crowe said.
Even as Regimental Combat Team 7 works to build up Iraqi security forces, it’s succeeding in its mission to push insurgents out of the area, driving them north and outside Crowe’s area of operation, he said.
“We have (reduced) the cells that run north of the Euphrates River Valley, in some cases up to 70 or 80 percent,” he said. “Our operations in Haditha the past month have dropped attacks up to 50 percent in the … area of Haditha.”
He’s also working to get the area’s judicial system up and running, he said.
“Due to the murder intimidation, that is a challenging aspect of our task, but we’re going to (succeed at the) mission,” Crowe said. “We know what we have to do; provide security for those judges, for the courthouses, and get them into conducting their normal business.”
The colonel’s responsibility also includes the area’s economics. Anbar, which encompasses the Euphrates River Valley, is primarily an agricultural region and much effort has been put into irrigation, Crowe said.
The Iraqi railroad also is up and running to move Anbar’s products throughout the country, Crowe said. The hope is to open the rest of the rails from Haditha to Ramadi later in the summer. Studies also are being conducted to see if an oil refinery in the area can be reopened.
With all of the progress that’s been made in the area, Crowe feels confident about the mission before him. “I’ve got two Iraqi brigades out here that are prepared to march,” Crowe said. “I’ve got Iraqi police forces that are operating independently and they’re taking the fight to the enemy.
“The rule of law is returning to western al Anbar,” he added.
Crowe said his only limiting factor is the number of soldiers in the two Iraqi brigades. They are at about half of the desired end strength.