By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
June 20, 2007 – Iraqi and coalition forces anticipate a summer of hard fighting, but are confident there is a good prospect for continued progress in the months ahead, a senior military official said during a Baghdad news conference today. "Hopefully this can be matched by progress in the political and economic areas in Iraq and again give us hope for the way ahead," said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fox, Multinational Force Iraq communications division chief, during the first news conference held for local media since the mosque bombing in Samarra June 13.
Fox told reporters that all requested forces for the surge of five U.S. brigades are now in the area and have simultaneously conducted coordinated, corps-level offensive operations throughout Iraq.
"Coalition forces are strong and focused, and are concentrating our effort and might against the extremists," he said. Troops are taking the fight to the terrorists, going after them to deny sanctuary, and taking back neighborhoods to build a secure future for the Iraqi people, Fox said.
"Together with our Iraqi colleagues, we are pursuing the extremists and maintaining the initiative," he said.
Operation Arrowhead Ripper was launched with a quick night air assault yesterday in Baqubah by the 2nd Infantry Division's 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in an effort to pressure al Qaeda terrorists operating in northern Iraq.
Fox said nearly 10,000 soldiers, a full complement of attack helicopters and numerous Stryker and Bradley fighting vehicles are being used in conjunction with intensive close-air support throughout the ongoing operation.
Troops in central Iraq are simultaneously conducting Operation Marne Torch in a major operational offensive to prevent insurgents from entering the southern Baghdad belt. Their mission is to deny the enemy sanctuary by preventing terrorist elements from moving bomb parts and materials into Baghdad, the admiral said.
"Iraqi and coalition forces are conducting carefully planned and executed operations demonstrating their resolve to deny terrorists safe havens and will continue to pursue these terrorists wherever they go," Fox said, "not simply pushing (al Qaeda in Iraq) or the extremists into other areas, but attacking their networks and damaging their ability to wage horrific and calculated violence against the citizens of Iraq."
Fox expressed his sympathies for the victims and families of yesterday's attack of the Khillani mosque in Baghdad. A truck loaded with 50 canisters of gas and half a ton of TNT exploded outside the Shiite mosque, resulting in extensive damage to a wall of the sacred site and killing and wounding innocent Iraqi civilians.
"We know the enemy will attempt to disrupt our efforts, as evidenced by yesterday's horrific attack in Baghdad," Fox said. "We share the outrage of the Iraqi people against this despicable attack."
The admiral praised the efforts of the Iraqi government in effectively taking control of the situation following last week's attack on the twin minarets of the Samarra mosque. He said the quick reaction prevented a repeat of the sectarian violence that erupted following the February 2006 attack at the same holy site.
"From weapons caches to foiled bridge and checkpoint bombings to tips we receive from tribes and citizens, we are on the offensive to dismantle these cell and networks," he said. "This will be a tough fight and one with challenges and hurdles, but our forces are on the offensive, and we are attacking the enemy."