Commander in Iraq Expresses Optimism About Security Gains
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2008 Security contributions provided by surge-fortified U.S. forces and ongoing efforts by Iraqi soldiers, police and concerned local citizens’ groups have combined to produce stability, a senior U.S. officer posted in Iraq said today.
“The current security situation is stable, and I am optimistic about the future,” said Army Col. Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, a component of the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Infantry Division. The Iraq veteran and his unit deployed to Iraq in December.
A component of Multinational Division Center, James’ 3,000-member brigade is based at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, located near the town of Iskandariyah, about 25 miles south of Baghdad. Also known as Task Force Marne, James’ brigade also is responsible for security operations in Najaf, Karbala and Hillah.
The 4th BCT’s area of responsibility is about the size of Switzerland and contains more than 620,000 Iraqi inhabitants. James’ area encompasses north Babil province and stretches from the Euphrates River Valley in the west to the Tigris River Valley in the east.
The U.S. soldiers work with Iraqi forces “to secure the population, interdict accelerants moving towards Baghdad, defeat extremists and neutralize resistance groups, primarily focused on defeating sectarian violence, and build capacity of the Iraqi security forces, government institutions and economic programs,” James explained.
James’ unit also is working to transfer security and local development tasks to Iraqi forces and local governments, he said.
Violence is down across his area of responsibility, James said. “Sunni extremists are severely disrupted; they no longer find sanctuary and support from the (Iraqi) population,” he noted.
James attributed the improved security situation to the effects of the surge, improved Iraqi security force capabilities, and the contributions of the Sons of Iraq and other concerned local citizens’ groups.
“The five-brigade surge gave coalition forces the resources required to concentrate combat power in extremist-dominated areas, that allowed us to occupy key terrain in these areas to avoid enemy re-occupation,” James explained. Today, U.S. forces and Iraqi soldiers and police work together to expand upon those security gains and to keep the peace, he added.
The perceptible increase in security has boosted Iraqis’ confidence in the future, the colonel added, noting Iraqi citizens are providing more and more information about extremist operations.
“When the people know that coalition and Iraqi security forces are living with them, they feel more comfortable providing information on extremist activity and they feel more secure in their neighborhoods and homes,” James noted.
In addition, the performance of Iraqi soldiers and police “has improved significantly,” James said. “The difference between their capacity during my last deployment and now is truly amazing.”
Also, Iraqi citizens are tired of being terrorized by extremists and have stepped up to secure their neighborhoods, James pointed out.
“The Sons of Iraq program employs local Iraqis to secure their neighborhoods under the supervision of local tribal leaders and overwatch by Iraqi security forces,” James explained. “We use these static security positions to thicken our security lines in areas where we cannot fully commit coalition or Iraqi security forces.”
Almost 8,000 Sons of Iraq members, including Shiites and Sunnis man 552 security checkpoints within James’ area, the colonel said.