By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
May 25, 2007 – In its first deployment to Iraq, one of the Army's newest modular light infantry brigade combat teams is making its mark under the president's troop surge plan, the brigade's top officer said today in a briefing to Pentagon reporters. The 1st Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Riley, Kan., is deployed as part of the troop surge to the east and west Rashid security districts in the Multinational Division Baghdad area. It is partnered with the 2nd Infantry Division's 3rd Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., and three Iraqi security force brigades. Together, the troops are clearing an area about 58 square miles, roughly the size of San Francisco, home to about 700,000 Iraqis.
In the past three weeks, under Operation Dragon Fire, the troops have cleared 45 neighborhoods, detaining 94 terrorist suspects, freeing two kidnapped citizens and capturing 397 explosive munitions, 245 weapons systems, 150 improvised explosive devices and enough components to make 3,000 more IEDs, said Army Col. Ricky Gibbs, commander of the BCT and Task Force Dragon.
They've also destroyed two torture houses and a terrorist safe haven, Gibbs said.
It has not come without loss to the units, though. Seven U.S. soldiers have been killed in the surge to clear the area.
Initially, attacks were high against the troops as they moved in and secured the area. Now, direct attacks are down, but the use of IEDs against the troops has increased, Gibbs said.
The troops man five joint security stations and 20 coalition outposts in the area. They live at the outposts until rotating back to the forward operating base.
Gibbs said living in the communities allows the troops to gain the trust of the Iraqi people. This reaps big dividends in the fight, he said.
"The tips that are coming in from the people are astronomical, and that's allowing us to find these terrorists, or the Takfir, as the locals call them, and take them off the street," Gibbs said.
The joint security stations are similar to local police stations and are located in the neighborhoods.
There has been a decrease in violence, he said, primarily because of the nearly doubled troop presence.
Gibbs said his troops are working side by side with an Iraqi army brigade and two police brigades. He said they co-plan, rehearse and share intelligence, and in some cases the Iraqi forces lead the operations.
Even so, Gibbs said, the Iraqi police forces have yet to earn the full confidence of the people there to the level that the Iraqi army has. Gibbs said one of his biggest concerns was the ability of the Iraqi police force to hire enough to fill its ranks.
The task force also is working to restore essential services in the area. Priorities have been with restoring sanitation services and electrical power, with 127 active projects throughout the districts and another 62 projects planned.
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