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Insurgent Success Rate Down in Northern Iraq Attacks Against Coalition

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

KIRKUK, Iraq, Dec. 6, 2003 – Attacks against coalition forces in northern Iraq have dropped significantly in recent weeks, and 95 percent of them fail to hurt coalition personnel or even damage coalition vehicles, the commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division told visiting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld here today.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno said that while the numbers of attacks went up at first when insurgents changed to more "stand-off" kinds of attacks using improvised explosive devices and rocket and mortar attacks, the attacks have fallen off as more and more factors are working against the insurgents.

The general said Iraqi citizens increasingly are providing information that leads coalition forces to insurgency organizers, bomb makers and financiers. "I think we've made some really good progress here in the last three weeks or so in terms of picking up some key people that I think will have an effect on my entire area of operations." His division is responsible for the area north of Baghdad to Kirkuk and out to the Iranian border.

Odierno said that as more and more criminals and attackers are killed, wounded or locked up, successful coalition operations result in Iraqis coming forward with more new information. He estimated that about 200 people are arrested each week, about 90 percent of them by Iraqi police.

As the coalition takes more weapons out of circulation, they become more expensive for insurgents to procure, and the price for "hired guns" to carry out attacks is going up as well, Odierno said. "The price is getting higher because they're less willing to come forward," he said, "because they're paying with their lives, and they don't want to do that." He estimated that 90 percent of the people organizing and carrying out attacks on the coalition are mid-level former regime loyalists.

Rumsfeld arrived shortly after dawn and had breakfast with soldiers and airmen at the air base here before receiving an update on the northern Iraq situation from Odierno. Part of the reason for the decline in the success rate of attacks against the coalition, the general said, is that once the coalition adjusted to the new tactics, it became more difficult for the attackers to get away.

"They know if they stay more than about two minutes, they're not going to make it," he told Rumsfeld in the briefing. This, he explained, caused the attacks to be made from mobile platforms, rather than fixed positions, making the attackers unable to aim their weapons accurately. "So they just kind of fire them off, and hope they get lucky," Odierno said.

As time has gone on, the coalition and Iraqi security forces have become more adept at knowing what to look for at vehicle checkpoints and at narrowing down how and when the insurgents plant many of their IEDs, division officials told the secretary, and this progress prevents many attacks that might have succeeded earlier from ever taking place.

Odierno praised the work of Iraqi security forces in the north. They accompany soldiers on about half of their patrols, and on about three-quarters of their cordon-and-search raids, with the numbers even higher in some areas. The division commander told the secretary he doesn't need more soldiers, and in fact probably will need fewer than the 32,000 soldiers now serving in Task Force Ironhorse as more and more Iraqis take on security responsibilities.

Odierno showed Rumsfeld a chart detailing thousands of weapons, IEDs, rockets, grenades, blasting caps, ammunition rounds, explosives and other equipment task force soldiers found in a recent 45-day period. "I had 3,400 cache sites in our division area," he said. "We've consolidated and shrunk that. We're now down to about 400 sites, and I think by the end of December (or) the beginning of January, we'll be down to almost zero."

When Rumsfeld asked the general whether things were better in the north than they were when the secretary last visited three months ago, Odierno didn't hesitate to say they were.

"Every month it gets better," he said. "We were down talking to soldiers the other day, and they said, 'Sir, you know I can't believe how much better it's gotten, because we see the difference in the Iraqi people. We see the difference when we go out and have contacts with the people. We even see that we feel we're being much more successful at interdicting what (the insurgents are) trying to do.'"

A meeting with local Iraqi leaders followed the military briefing, and the secretary then traveled to Baghdad for the afternoon.

Rumsfeld was visiting Iraq as part of a weeklong trip that started out on Dec. 1 at the NATO defense ministers meeting and included stops in the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as in Afghanistan.

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