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Operations Disrupt Enemy, Give Iraqi Forces Experience

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2005 – Current operations in Iraq are serving two important purposes, the Joint Staff's deputy director for regional operations said today during a Pentagon press briefing.

Recent and ongoing operations such as Matador, Squeezeplay, Hudson and New Market, Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham pointed out, "have focused on disrupting enemy activities."

"And they've also provided opportunity for the Iraqi security forces to gain valuable experience," he said.

Before coming to the Joint Staff, Ham commanded Task Force Olympia based in Mosul.

He said that the Iraqi defense minister's announcement today about a massive security sweep to begin in Baghdad conveys the growing confidence and capability of Iraqi security forces.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita agreed. "We are gaining confidence in the security forces. This operation in Baghdad made people feel pretty good about ... how at least in Baghdad the capability of the Iraqi security force is developing."

Ham said there has been no decision whether U.S. troop levels, currently at about 139,000, will increase or decrease. He added that there will be a temporary small increase because units will overlap as they are rotated in and out of Iraq.

Though the focus is often on Iraq and Afghanistan, it's important not to forget that the war on terrorism is a global war, the general said.

He noted that Pacific exercise SEACAT, currently under way, involves six Southeast Asian nations. "This is training that is designed to enhance the capability to track and board vessels that are suspected of transporting suspicious persons - terrorists - or material that may support those terrorists."

On another issue, Di Rita warned against believing that the Syria-Iraq border was secure just because the Syrian ambassador reported that arrests had been made.

"The fact that there may have been some people picked up on the Syrian side of the boarder may be such as the Syrian ambassador described it," he said. "But it should by no means persuade anybody that that border is a secure border. It is a highly porous border."

Ham said he wished he could be definitive on the reported whereabouts of and injuries to terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"I'd love to be able to confirm or deny that. We do not have independent corroboration of the statements from the Iraqi government officials," he said. "I would also note though that it's important to put this in context. While Zarqawi certainly is an important character, his organization is bigger than just one guy."

Al Qaeda in Iraq will not collapse with Zarqawi's demise, whether he be captured, which would be preferable, or if he's killed or wounded, Ham said. The Zarqawi network has cells throughout Iraq and "I would expect that if he were incapacitated, killed or captured, that there would be some decision-making as to who would step up and take his place. But I don't know who that individual's name is."

But Ham noted that al-Zarqawi "is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and clearly his capture or removal from that position will have a significant effect on al Qaeda in Iraq."

Ham mentioned that the upcoming holiday is a time to remember those who sacrificed protecting the country and its freedoms.

"I think it's important as we look forward to Memorial Day ... to remember those who have fallen in the service of their nation and their families who have made such a great sacrifice. We really owe them more of a debt than we can ever repay."

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