Mar 31, 2008

Army - Insurgents fighting

Cavalry unit responds to extremist activity

By Staff Sgt. Sean Riley, 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi Security Forces combated an increase in violence in and around Jisr Diyala, a town east of Baghdad, March 26- 28.

On March 26, 3-1st Cav. Regt. Soldiers were engaged by small-arms fire from an estimated 20 extremists. During the days following, extremist activity increased, leading to AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade engaging five extremists in the early hours of March 28. During the three-day period, 11 extremists were killed, five wounded and another 23 detained by Iraqi National Police.

“We have seen a significant increase in enemy activity in the last two days in Jisr Diyala,” said Maj. David Guthrie, from Hampton, Va., operations officer for 3-1st Cav. Regt. “Two days ago, we had patrols involved in a sustained small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade engagements.”

Guthrie was involved in a firefight with extremists on the north side of Jisr Diyala March 27 while on a combat patrol. “We were stopping to talk with the men at Sons of Iraq and National Police checkpoints,” he said. “We had received reports that the extremists were driving around with weapons telling the men at the checkpoints to throw down their arms and desert their posts or face being attacked.”

Caught in a cross-fire, Guthrie and his patrol called for assistance. Soon, U.S. Army attack helicopters and fighter aircraft were assisting the patrol, while the NP cleared the extremists from an adjacent palm grove, Guthrie said.

In a separate incident during the early-morning hours of March 28, five men were observed acting suspiciously in the city. Attack aviation pilots conducted a further reconnaissance and determined hostile intent. The attack helicopters engaged the men, killing all five.

“During the three days of fighting in Jisr Diyala, the ISF and Sons of Iraq held their ground and took the fight to the enemy,” said Maj. Dave Fivecoat, from Delaware, Ohio, the 3rd HBCT operations officer. “I’ve been encouraged by our ISF and SoI partners’ determination to stop the violence.”

The 3-1st Cav. Regt., is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Mar 29, 2008

Iraq in Flames ?

Saturday, 1830 EST:

From Baghdad to Basra, Iraq seems to be gving back all the gains and advances of the last 18 months. Al--Sadr's army is successfully standing against the Iraqi Army and other Iraqi Security force,s and today 40 Iraqi Police in Baghdad defected - on camera- and handed over their weapons and ammunition to a representative of the Mahdi Army.

The Americans and remaining Coalition Forces within the Green Zone have been ordered to sleep in the bunkers, and travel; has been restricted to 'as necessary' and only in armored vehicles. Fighting is being reported in Mahmudiyah, Iskendariyah, Najaf, Hilla, Kut, Samawah, Amara, Nasiriyah, and Basra - in short - every city south of Baghdad.

Below is an AP News Report of 60 minutes ago:

Associated Press:

BAGHDAD - Anti-American Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers Saturday to defy government orders to surrender their weapons, as U.S. jets struck Shiite extremists near Basra to bolster a faltering Iraqi offensive against gunmen in the city.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged he may have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power.

Government television said the round-the-clock curfew imposed two days ago on the capital and due to expire Sunday would be extended indefinitely. Gunfire and explosions were heard late Saturday in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. Embassy tightened its security measures, ordering all staff to use armored vehicles for all travel in the Green Zone and to sleep in reinforced buildings until further notice after six days of rocket and mortar attacks that left two Americans dead.

Despite the mounting crisis, al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, vowed to remain in Basra until government forces wrest control from militias, including the Mahdi Army. He called the fight for control of Basra "a decisive and final battle."

British ground troops, who controlled the city until handing it over to the Iraqis last December, also joined the battle for Basra, firing artillery Saturday for the first time in support of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi authorities have given Basra extremists until April 8 to surrender heavy and medium weapons after an initial 72-hour ultimatum to hand them over was widely ignored.

But a defiant al-Sadr called on his followers Saturday to ignore the order, saying that his Mahdi Army would turn in its weapons only to a government that can "get the occupier out of Iraq," referring to the Americans.

The order was made public by Haidar al-Jabiri, a member of the influential political commission of the Sadrist movement.

Al-Sadr, in an interview aired Saturday by Al-Jazeera television, said his Mahdi Army was capable of "liberating Iraq" and maintained al-Maliki's government was as "distant" from the people as Saddam Hussein's.

Residents of Basra contacted by telephone said Mahdi militiamen were manning checkpoints Saturday in their neighborhood strongholds. The sound of intermittent mortar and machine gun fire rang out across the city, as the military headquarters at a downtown hotel came under repeated fire.

An Iraqi army battalion commander and two of his bodyguards were killed Saturday night by a roadside bomb in central Basra, military spokesman Col. Karim al-Zaidi said.

The fight for Basra is crucial for al-Maliki, who flew to Basra earlier this week and is staking his credibility on gaining control of Iraq's second-largest city, which has essentially been held by armed groups for nearly three years.

In a speech Saturday to tribal leaders in Basra, al-Maliki promised to "stand up to these gangs" not only in the south but throughout Iraq.

Iraqi officials and their American partners have long insisted that the crackdown was not directed at al-Sadr's movement but against criminals and renegade factions - some of whom are allegedly tied to Iran.

Al-Maliki told tribal leaders that the offensive in Basra "was only to deal with these gangs" - some of which he said "are worse than al-Qaida."

Without mentioning the Sadrists by name, al-Maliki said he was "surprised to see that party emerge with all the weapons available to it and strike at everything - institutions, people, departments, police stations and the army."

Al-Sadr's followers have accused rival Shiite parties in the national government of trying to crush their movement before provincial elections this fall. The young cleric's lieutenants had warned repeatedly that any move to dislodge them from Basra would provoke bloodshed.

But al-Maliki's comments appeared to reinforce suspicions that his government failed to foresee the backlash, including a sharp upsurge in violence throughout the Shiite south and shelling of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, the nerve center of the Iraqi leadership and the U.S. mission.

Two American soldiers were killed Saturday when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in mostly Shiite east Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

The growing turmoil threatens to undermine White House efforts to convince a skeptical Congress and the American public that the Iraqis are making progress toward managing their own security without the presence of U.S. troops.

With the Shiite militiamen defiant, a group of police in Sadr City abandoned their posts and handed over their weapons to al-Sadr's local office. Police forces in Baghdad are believed to be heavily influenced or infiltrated by Mahdi militiamen.

"We can't fight our brothers in the Mahdi Army, so we came here to submit our weapons," one policeman said on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

He said about 40 policemen had defected to the Mahdi Army. The figure could not be confirmed, but AP Television News footage showed about a dozen uniformed police, their faces covered with masks to shield their identity, being met by Sheik Salman al-Feraiji, al-Sadr's chief representative in Sadr City.

Al-Feraiji greeted each policeman and gave them a copy of the Quran and an olive branch as they handed over their guns and ammunition.

On Saturday, Iraqi officials said they had received a phone call from Tahseen Sheikhly, the high-profile civilian spokesman for the Baghdad security operation, who was seized by gunmen two days earlier from at his home in a Shiite area of the capital.

An Iraqi-owned satellite television station, Sharqiya, broadcast what it said was a tape of the conversation, in which a man identifying himself as Sheikhly said he was being held "with a group of officers" at an unknown location.

"Our release depends on the withdrawal of al-Maliki from Basra and the easing of the military operations against the Sadrists in all provinces," he said. "We appeal to the prime minister and the Iraqi government to work with the Sadrist movement, which represents the popular base of society."

Bombings, exchanges of fire and other violent incidents have been reported in Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut and other cities throughout the Shiite south.

In Basra, U.S. jets dropped two precision-guided bombs at midday Saturday on a suspected militia stronghold at Qarmat Ali north of the city, British military spokesman Maj. Tom Holloway said.

"My understanding was that this was a building that had people who were shooting back at Iraqi ground forces," Holloway said.

Iraqi police said that earlier in the day a U.S. warplane strafed a house and killed eight civilians, including two women and one child. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the report and it was not possible to independently verify it.

Iraq's Health Ministry, which is close to the Sadrist movement, on Saturday reported at least 75 civilians have been killed and at least 500 others injured in a week of clashes and airstrikes in Sadr City and other eastern Baghdad neighborhoods.

The U.S. military sharply disputes the claims, having said that most of those killed were militia members.

Mar 28, 2008

Fighting Intensifies in Basra & Baghdad

U.S. drawn deeper into Iraq clashes

American aircraft launch strikes in Basra; US troops battle militia in Baghdad

The following is taken from Associated Press - MSNBC - Reuters reports

American forces were drawn deeper into Iraq’s crackdown on Shiite militants today as Coalition Forces launched air strikes on Basra for the first time since 2003, as well as battling Al-Sadr's paramilitary forces in Baghdad.

Iraqi Army forces, despute years of training and billions of dollars invested, are unable to drive Al-Sadr's militia out of Basra.

The campaign to rid Basra of it's growing cadre of Shia religious zealots, gangsters, and Shia militias supported by Iran, s a major test for al-Maliki and for the Iraqi military and security forces.

Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim acknowledged at a news conference in Basra that Iraqi security forces had been caught off-guard by the strength of the opposition.
"We supposed that this operation would be a normal operation, but we were surprised by this resistance and have been obliged to change our plans and our tactics," he said.

President Bush's "Surge" strategy hinges on the ability of Iraqi Security Forces (Army & Police), as well as Government of Iraq leaders like Prime Minister Maleki to control situations like this. This is the first serious test for the ISF to control their own cities, and it appears that they are not up to the challenge.

The Washington Post reported this morning that U.S. troops appeared to be taking the lead in the fighting in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, with Iraqi army and police units largely remaining on the outskirts. A Post reporter said four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles rumbled through Sadr City, one of them engaging militiamen with the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to al-Sadr, with heavy fire. The Post also said that American forces were involved in about a dozen gun battles on Thursday in Baghdad, with the fighting spread in six districts.

The main Shia bloc of legislators in the Iraqi Parliement refused to call for a special session, saying correctly that the fighting in Basra was a law & order issue, and it's outcome could not be legislated.

The performance of the ISF could well determine American hopes of reducing troop levels in Iraq. Both President Bush and Gen Petraeus have called for a halt to reducing American troop strength this summer, leaving the 8,000 more troops in-country than when the Surge began. With the Joint Chiefs telling President Bush yesterday that the continued "op-tempo" is badly stressing the Army and Marine Corps (as well as the other 2 services to a far lesser degree), it is more important than ever that the ISF need to take control of Basra quickly.

Mar 25, 2008

Today: Heavy Fighting in Basra

Heavy Fighting In Southern Iraqi Oil HubBy REUTERS

March 25, 2008 - Filed at 5:01 a.m. ET

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Heavy fighting erupted on Tuesday in the southern oil city of Basra where Iraqi security forces launched a major operation at dawn against powerful militias, military officials and witnesses said.

A Reuters witness in the city reported seeing black smoke over northern districts and hearing explosions and machinegun fire. A hospital source said "tens of wounded" were arriving at hospitals with some too busy to accept more casualties.

Television pictures showed Iraqi troops running through empty streets and helicopters flying overhead.

"There are clashes in the streets. Bullets are coming from everywhere and we can hear the sound of rocket explosions. This has been going on since dawn," resident Jamil told Reuters by telephone as he cowered in his home.

Military officials said "many outlaws" had been killed.

Two powerful factions of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Mehdi Army militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, are fighting for power in Basra along with a smaller Shi'ite party, Fadhila.

Basra is Iraq's second city and gateway to the Gulf. Its oil fields are the source of most government revenues.

Iraqi oil industry sources said the fields, which exported 1.54 million barrels of oil per day in February, were operating normally on Tuesday.

Officials say criminal gangs are also vying for control of lucrative oil- smuggling routes at a time when Iraq, which has the world's third-largest reserves of oil, is trying to boost exports.

Iraqi security forces took control of Basra from British forces in December, although 4,100 British troops remain at an airbase outside the city to offer assistance if needed. Plans to reduce that force by mid-year appear to have been delayed.


Major Tom Holloway, a spokesman for British forces in Basra, said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was in the city to oversee the operation.

Iraqi army Major-General Ali Zaidan, the commander of Iraqi ground forces in the operation, said the offensive would continue "until we achieve our target. The target is to wipe out all the outlaws. There were clashes and many outlaws have been killed," Zaidan said, adding that he had no death toll.

The operation was launched after Maliki, accompanied by his defense and interior ministers, arrived in the city on Monday vowing to reimpose his government's control over the semi- lawless city.

"It will be very difficult for the central government to regain control," said Joost Hiltermann, an Istanbul-based analyst for the respected International Crisis Group think-tank.

"You have many armed groups that are looking to keep hold of their share of the oil wealth. The central government is clearly upset about this because they want to assert control."

Basra residents said Tuesday's operation was concentrated in six northern districts where Sadr's Mehdi Army militia is known to have a strong presence.

"We are ready to negotiate," said Harith al-Ithari, the head of Sadr's office in Basra, calling for calm and accusing Maliki's government of trying to crush the Sadrist movement.

The British military said no British ground forces were involved in the operation, but warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition were carrying out aerial surveillance.

Holloway said Iraqi troops had been sent from across Iraq to reinforce the 14th Iraqi Army division in Basra.

Mar 19, 2008

Marines in Afghanistan !!

Marines arrive in Kandahar; Joint Ops
With Canadians Expected

Andrew Lubin

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN – There was no housing ready for them, so the arriving U.S. Marines claimed a desolate spot on the far side of the runway and started to build their base virtually as they rolled out of their aircraft.

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, under Col Peter Petronzio, brings some 2,300 Marines to the fight for stability in south-central Afghanistan. The Marines will work with the Canadian forces already on the ground, and under the command of NATO-ISAF will conduct full-spectrum operations to capitalize on recent ISAF and Afghan Security Force successes in providing a secure environment for the Afghan people.

The speed at which these men work is in keeping with the traditions of the United States Marines Corps, a force known for its ability to respond quickly and ferociously anywhere in the world, and there is an expectation that the thousands of Marines arriving will make an immediate impression ‘outside the wire.”

The Marines of the 24th MEU are making preparations to begin operations this spring, but right now are building the infrastructure from where they will be operating. In addition to building a tent city, they are installing showers, latrines, a gym, and even the ramps and laying the AM-2 matting necessary to land aircraft. Sleeping tents are being erected 24/7, and helicopters are being assembled as they are rolled out of the 40’ shipping containers in which they arrived.

Additionally, the Marines continue their usual training regime, maintain their physical fitness, and acclimate to the altitude.

Equally important is that the commanding officers and other key personnel from the Canadian, English, and other NATO forces meet and work to co-ordinate the Marines into the fight.

As reported in the Globe & Mail, as well as other Canadian newspapers, Canada has demanded another 1,000 troops in southern Afghanistan as the price for extending its mission to 2011. The 3,200 Marines currently arriving (approx 2,300 from the 24th MEU and 1,000 from 2/7 Marines out of 29 Palms) are officially scheduled to stay through the typical Marine deployment of seven months. The Globe & Mail reports that there is a widespread belief in Kandahar that they will be staying longer.

Col Petronzio rejected claim that the Marines were there to do the “heavy lifting” that many NATO countries have left to the Canadian and British forces. He also added that while many of his men had learned valuable counterinsurgency skills in Iraq, that every battle is fundamentally different. He added that his commanders would be looking to build on the "painful lessons" learned by a Canadian contingent that lost its 81st soldier this week.

Col. Petronzio said that the Marines, who as a MEU field their own helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, and artillery, will be happy to offer their allies access to any equipment they're not using.

The equipment most coveted by Canadians are the marines' helicopters, 25 of which would normally be deployed with an MEU. These include both attack and utility helicopters, as well as the medium- and heavy-lift choppers so urgently needed by Canadian forces.

"We go as a package," Col. Petronzio said yesterday. "If we're not going as a package, we're not going to have our stuff sitting here idle. It'll be available for the coalition."

Col. Petronzio also pointed to the extensive track record of close co-operation between the Canadian and United States militaries. "I think ... [we] have a long history of doing this together," he noted.

The Military Observer will be reporting in more detail on the 24th MEU in the upcoming weeks and months, as well as the 12th Marine contingent that has just arrived at Camp Black Horse, RCAC-Central. They are tasked to train the 201st Corp ANA troops in the eastern part of the country, out on the Afghan-Pak border.

Mar 17, 2008

Operation "Marne Rugged" kicks off

Operation Marne Rugged kicks off south of Baghdad

From Task Force Marne PAO Staff

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – Operation Marne Rugged started March 15 in the area southeast of Arab Jabour and Salman Pak, south of the Tigris River. The operation will establish support for local Iraqi communities seeking security against al-Qaeda in Iraq and various criminal forces seeking to take advantage of the lack of GOI influence.

The goal of Marne Rugged is to provide lasting security to the region by controlling the approaches to Arab Jabour, Salman Pak and Baghdad. Headed by Iraqi Security Forces with Coalition support, the operation will focus on controlling an area of the Tigris River valley to disrupt the remaining criminal and AQI elements. Control of the territory is currently difficult due to the terrain, threat of improvised explosive devices and poor condition of canals and bridges.

The ISF, will lead most of the ground missions and will receive support from a Task force Marne MiTT's Team. The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division will participate in clearance operations and provide support as needed. Marne Rugged will also establish a new patrol base to command river crossings and control peninsulas created by bends in the river.

The goal of Operation Marne Rugged is to eliminate remaining extremists and rebuild the domestic infrstructure.

On the heels of Operations Marne Thunderbolt and Grand Slam south of Baghdad, the soldiers of Task Force Marne will push further south to squeeze extremists during Operation Marne Rugged. The operation will cover a rural area southeast of Baghdad, south of the Tigris River in the area of operation of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and 3rd Brigade, 8th Iraqi Army.

One phase of the operation will be the establishment of Patrol Base Summers, a joint Iraqi Army and Coalition forces base. It is named for SSGT Vincent Summers (2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment) who was killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom III.
“We have found that when we put Iraqi Army and Coalition forces in a patrol base in an area like Summers, the population comes to us and gives us that refined intelligence, so that we can do precise operations against any al-Qaeda that may be in this area,” said Col. Tom James, commander of 4th BCT, during a pre-operation briefing at Forward Operating Base Zulu given last week.

In addition to establishing the patrol base and eliminating al-Qaeda and any other extremists, Marne Rugged will focus on capacity building. In anticipation of the operation, the Coalition and IA have already identified approximately 2,500 Iraqi security volunteers who are eager to transition into Sons of Iraq in the short-term and into Iraqi Security Forces in the long-term. “We see two major tasks that we have to accomplish: One, we have to integrate the Iraqi security volunteers,” James said. “The other is to provide quick-impact, small projects to the local civilians.”
Col. Ali Abdul Hussein, commander of 3/8 IA, also cited the importance of local projects, in particular repairing water pumps that he said were damaged by terrorists. Operable water pumps are of vital importance to this agricultural area as the pumps are used to push water thru the extensive levee and canal system.

Mar 13, 2008

The Long War - One Marine's View

The Long War: A Marine Perspective on the Global War on Terrorism
General Robert Magnus
Assistant Commandant, United States Marine Corps

Philadelphia, 11 Mar 2008

The Global Interdependence Center hosted Gen Robert Magnus at the University of Pennsylvania Tuesday evening.

Using the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a backdrop, Gen Magnus spoke about using various types of power in order to advance national security and the national interest. “Clausewitz said that you need to understand the war you are in,” Magnus explained, “war is an exercise of politics, but by other means.”

But having a ‘hammer’, as he described the Marine Corps and the American military, does not mean that the military should be the primary method of enforcing national strategic interests. There are many ways to utilize the American military, he explained, citing Marine efforts in training Afghan Police, reconstruction efforts in Ramadi, and the Provisional Reconstruction Teams in Iraq who are involved in job creation that ranges from opening shops to vaccinating cows. “If we don’t help them find jobs,” Magnus commented,” then they’ll go back to earning money by dropping an IED on our troops.”

Part of the utilization of national power, Magnus said, is that it includes making choices. Using the example of arms sales to Pakistan, he explained that while selling arms assists the American economy, and is cheaper than sending troops, it also takes scarce money out of Pakistan, who tends to fund arms purchases by short-changing their education budget and social services “Then the parents send their kids to the madrassa schools, with the obvious consequences.”

According to Magnus, there are five elements of national power, with their value depending on the country involved. “Military and Economic Power are the first two, as well as the most obvious”, he explained. “On one hand, kinetic power is good when we killed Zarkawi, but bad when we bombed an Afghan wedding. And while Adam Smith’s hand is invisible, its effects certainly are not- our GNP is $ 14 trillion annually and we’re the world’s hyperpower.”

Magnus listed Diplomatic Power as the third element, although he noted that this is usually the weakest element of the five. “When Abbas and Hamas and the Israeli’s stop negotiating, they fall back to the military option far too quickly.”

The remaining two are far more subtle, yet almost as important as the military and economic factors. Culture is vitally important, he explained,” Japanese kids playing baseball are now playing in the major leagues. I saw kids wearing Mike Tyson t-shirts when I was in Djibouti; like him or not, Michael Jackson is often seen as a representative of our culture. It’s a question of how we as a people are perceived.” Moral Power remains the final element, said Magnus. “It’s our ability to believe in our righteousness that helps rally the national will, and on the other side it either rallies others to our side – or forces them away.”

The moral element is extremely important, according to Magnus. Citing Clausewitz again, who wrote that moral is to physical as 3:1, he explained that people are more likely to be influenced by moral, instead of physical factors.

This is where the United States is too often lacking, Magnus said. “To change someone’s mind is a contest of wills, and the problem is that we don’t spend time or money on foreign affairs until there is a problem.” Using Hurricane Katrina as an example, Magnus noted that fixing the New Orleans levees before the hurricane struck would have saved billions of dollars in reconstruction costs.

Gen Magnus said that he expects the war on terror to be a generational struggle, and a 9/11 type terror attack could too easily be repeated “America needs a hammer; some of these bad guys don’t want to sit down and talk – you can’t negotiate with Nihilists.”

While globalization affects everyone, it affects everyone differently; while 50% of the Iraqi’s are literate, with many western-educated and following America on satellite TV; the remaining 50% are illiterate, and too easily influenced by the Islamic extremists teaching in the madrassas. “We need to think of the 26 million people who make up Iraq,” Magnus explained, “and how our strategic and tactical actions affect them” The problems are worse in Afghanistan, he continued, a country with a larger population and a larger illiteracy rate. The question, Magnus said, is that as a moral society, we need to decide how we want to influence the neighborhood.

Mar 11, 2008

Update - The Baghdad Belts - Gen Rick Lynch

Gen Rick Lynch is the Commanding General of Task Force Marne; 3rd Infantry Division. Responsible for the large, predominately agricultural area south of Baghdad, Gen Lynch took time yesterday to talk to The Military Observer and several other reporters about Task Force Marne’s efforts:

GEN. LYNCH: Let me give you an update on how things are going at MND Central. We're now averaging less than two attacks a day. Remember, a year ago when we got here we were averaging 25 attacks a day. The last couple of days we had no attacks. We averaged less than two the entire month of February. Civilian causalities are down by about 75 % and coalition casualties are down by 80 percent. So what's happening now is the conversation is changed.

As I'm out and about, I land at a patrol base and I get out of the helicopter, either do a dismounted or a mounted patrol to the downtown area and I meet with the locals and the conversation's no longer about security -- at least in my area: the southern belts of Baghdad and the southern provinces. The conversation's all about jobs; it's all about services; it's all about a sustainable, economic development.

So it's significant progress that we've made over the course of the year that we've been here, but it's a tenuous situation; that's the point we make all the time. That the surge came in and it gave us the combat power to take the fire to the enemy. We've killed or captured about 6,000 over the last 12 months that we've been here. We've established 54 patrol bases. So 75% of my soldiers live with the Iraqi people. And when we set these patrol bases, the Iraqi people come forward and ask: Are you staying? And when the answer is yes, they ask: How can we help?

So we now have about 40,000 concerned local citizens in our area that are providing security. And we have defined sustainable security as locals under positive control securing their communities and that's what's happening here now. So we've had a significant impact on Sunni extremism in our area. Operations that are going on now are focused on Shi'a extremism, as we work our way out towards Wasat province down the Tigris River valley.

So operations continue. We continue to focus on the transition from security to stability. Security is really numbers of attacks. I talked about that. Stability is sustainable security and sustainable economic development. So I'm really finding myself focused a lot on non-lethal lines of operation. I know more about fish farming and dairy farming and poultry farming and
agriculture than I ever did, but they’re the things that I'm focused on now to create jobs and sustainable economic development here in MNDC's area.

Q – Soldiers are trained to fight, and take objectives. Can you comment on how the missions of your soldiers have changed over the course of the last year?

GEN. LYNCH: Well, that's a great question. We've an amazing Army these days. It's an experienced-based army. And I'll use captains as an example. The captains that I have currently commanding companies were here as lieutenant platoon leaders, were here as junior captains on somebody's staff, and now they're back here as senior captains, as company commanders. They're well grounded in combat operations.

We were doing nothing but kinetic operations for about the first seven months we were here. Once it transitioned, I told them, okay, but that's not the main effort now. We can focus on nonlethal. They have the amazing capability to worry about schools and worry about services and do engagements. And they truly have become ambassadors at all levels.

Now, I contend that's primarily because we are an experienced- based army. We've all been down these roads before. We've seen what we need to do to transition from security to stability. The soldiers, candidly, they like it. I know we as a division will make our reenlistment objectives for fiscal year '08 by the first of April -- that's six months early -- six months early – because these soldiers know they're part of a winning team. They feel very good about the progress that they're making here in Iraq. They're focused on completing the mission.

I am indeed very proud of them.

You know, I mentioned early on that, you know, I'm a graduate from West Point, I've got a master's degree from MIT, I've got 30 years in the military, but I never knew anything about fish farming or dairy farming until I've got here. But we've got such a resilient army, we pick up these skill sets and then we apply it to the task at hand.

Q - It seems that what the Sons of Iraq are complaining about more than anything is -- other than the point about getting in a firefight with some U.S. forces -- is frustration with the Iraqi government and how slowly they're moving. I wonder if you could address that. And secondly, another thing that they mentioned in this article is the possibility of AQI infiltrating the Sons of Iraq. Maybe walk us through the vetting process for the Sons of Iraq.

GEN. LYNCH: Both great questions. I'll take the last one first:

Every time we get these guys that come forward -- and I'll just use the current fight: We're doing Marne Rugged, which is south of the Tigris River. We're attacking from west to east at the town of Suwayra. And as we work our way from west to east, we establish these patrol bases, and the first thing that happens is the locals come forward and say hey, I want to help. So we've got a very detailed vetting process.

First off, they're vouched for by their tribal leadership. The Sons of Iraq is tribal-based; tribal authority here is paramount, so the tribal leadership comes forward and vouches for them. That's number one. Number two is we put them into our database. We have this biometric database. We take thumbprints and fingerprints and their retinal scans, to make sure they don't show up hot in our database. And then we just watch them all the time.

My rule is we don't have concerned citizens where we can't watch them.

You know, we give them badges, we give them uniforms, and we check on them on a daily basis. And I do have a priority intelligence requirement that is focused on Sons of Iraq flipping or being infiltrated by either Shi'a extremists or Sunni extremists.

Remember, about 20 percent of my Sons of Iraq are Shi'a, and not Sunni. So we're watching for that very closely, because that is a concern. I haven't seen that, you know, over the course of the last eight months, but that doesn't mean that it won't pop up tomorrow. And then to your first question, you know, there is progress. And about a third of these bubbas want to join the Iraq security forces. They're interested in doing that and they meet the age and physical requirements. And in some cases, now, I've actually taken Sons of Iraq, been vetted by the Iraqi government and sent to Iraq police academies and have come back to be policemen in their hometowns.
And that has, indeed, been happening. It's not happening nearly as quickly as we'd like. You know, we process all these lists of people who want to be Iraqi army or Iraq police, and some of them, for whatever reason, get pulled off the list by the Iraqi government. But there are signs of progress; it's just not nearly as quickly as we'd like it to have happened.

Q - Part of basic services nowadays is education and schooling. Can you talk about your Soldiers role in re-opening the schools and being involved in the educational system ?

A - We have about 26 million Iraqis, and on any given day maybe 10,000 insurgents, but the rest are all just good people and they want to be able to send their kids to school.

So we've kind of perfected this, Andrew, like going out now to secure Safiyah. As soon as we're out there and we establish the patrol base, high on our list of things to fix are the schools, because you've got to get the kids back into school. It makes the parents comfortable; it makes the kids comfortable.

So we've figured out pretty much the TTP on how to rebuild the school,
how to engage with the Ministry of Education to make sure that the school gets the right supplies and the right staffing, and then we continue to mature this. But as I think through what's most important as we transition from security to stability, schools are close to the top of the list. And we're doing that with great effect. We built probably -- in the year we've been here, we've probably rebuilt 40 schools or so. And we find that the teachers are there.

The teachers were not employed because of the conditions at school or the security situation. And now that we've worked through all that, the teachers are back to work and the kids are back in school.

Q Are you getting the necessary support from the Ministry of Education?

GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, we are. Yeah, that's, candidly, probably the least of my worries. I don't struggle a lot with getting the teachers that have been accredited by the ministry back in the school systems.

You know, yesterday or the day before, I was in Ad Diwaniyah. I walked through the new school that we're building that's going to be done in a couple of weeks. The teachers are already on standby, the Ministry of Education's already agreed to re-supply them, and they'll put the teachers back in. So that's working pretty well.

The Military Observer thanks Gen Rick Lynch //