By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Sep. 1, 2006 – The commander of coalition forces in East Baghdad is "cautiously optimistic" for the future in his area of operations. Army Colonel Thomas Vail, commander of the 506th Regimental Combat Team, told Pentagon reporters via a teleconference from Baghdad that Operation Together Forward is having an effect in his area. The 506th is the 4th Brigade of the Multinational Division Baghdad, and covers an area of 1,500 square kilometers with 5 million people.
Operation Together Forward is trhe main effort in the region. The Iraqi-planned and -run operation is cutting in to the sectarian violence in Adhamiyah - the neighborhood where efforts are concentrated, he said. The effort is based on the strategy of "clear, protect and build," Vail said. "Once Iraqi security forces have cleared the area, together we hold the area and protect the people," said he explained.
The coalition forces in the area - including the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team - have increased joint patrols with the Iraqi army and national and local police. This provides security for a hard-hit area and helps re-establish normalcy in the neighborhoods. "This helps increase the trust and confidence of the Iraqi people in the Iraqi government," Vail said. "These operations set the conditions for us to work with local governments and continue to secure Adamiyah and provide essential services."
Providing the essential services - power, water, sewage, trash removal - is the build section of the strategy. Vail said the Iraqis have let contracts to haul trash, deliver power generators and remove abandoned vehicles in Adamiyah. Civil affairs personnel have also helped restart local businesses and provided jobs to more than 650 men in the neighborhood. "People can have a safe place to raise their children, return to work and get back to a normal life," he said.
The colonel praised the efforts of the Iraqi security forces in the area. "In the end, an Iraqi solution is best," he said. "The people of Baghdad must reject acts violence and assist with information on the (anti-Iraqi forces) and support their government. The government of Iraq is committed against terrorists and a better way of life for all Iraqis."
He said he is seeing a change in attitude among the people of the area. The Iraqi security forces and coalition are receiving lots of tips on insurgents from the population. The effect has been to drop the number of murders in the area from 11 a day to four. "There is a level of animosity toward the insurgents and (the population is) taking actions to assist the Iraqi forces and coalition forces in the operations," he said.
Vail's area goes from the predominantly Sunni Salman Pak area to primarily Shiia in the north. "I've got an optimistic view that civil war would not occur, but I can't predict the future," he said. "My optimism comes from the amount of forces and the amount of capability available in Baghdad right now as we intervene and we protect the people."
More than 34 battalions of coalition and Iraqi security forces serve in East Baghdad now. Multinational Division Baghdad commanders can allocate those forces to ensure security. "Now there are Iraqi police, there are national police battalions, and there are Iraqi army battalions available," he said. "But I think the most important thing is that as the people realize that they're being protected and as they see that the services are coming back, and the relationship between the Iraqi security forces and the people improve, I think that will have detrimental effect on each type of insurgency or a particular group that's trying to take advantage of the population."
Vail said his soldiers have worked well with their Iraqi counterparts. They quickly gained a rapport with the units they work with habitually, they understand the population, they know the geography and they know what to look for and what the threat is. "So with all that, I think we're able to better advise and train with the Iraqi army and national police daily," the colonel said.