By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
June 27, 2007 – The troop surge has become "a surge of operations," and coalition forces are in the early stages of a difficult fight, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman told reporters in Baghdad today. Coalition and Iraqi troops working together have led successful operations recently in Baqubah, Mosul, Anbar and Diyala provinces, and north of Baghdad, Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner said.
"We are on Day 12 of Operation Phantom Thunder, the Multinational Corps' offensive to simultaneously increase pressure in and around Baghdad. This has been, and will continue to be, a tough fight; we are in the early stages of that fight," he said.
Acknowledging the continuing violence in the region, Bergner said he joins Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in condemning the June 25 bombing of a busy Baghdad hotel that claimed 13 victims. Four tribal sheiks who were important coalition allies against al Qaeda in Anbar province were among those killed.
"This attack on Iraqis who sought peace and reconciliation is an affront to all people, and further proof of the barbaric nature of al Qaeda," said Bergner, who noted that al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
Speaking about recent operations, the general said coalition forces killed two senior al Qaeda leaders June 23 south of Hawija in Tamim province.
One of the leaders killed operated a cell that helped foreign fighters move into Iraq; he also fought against coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2001. The other slain insurgent, known as Khalil al-Turki, operated with the same cell and held close ties to other senior al Qaeda leaders, Bergner said.
In Baqubah June 25, combined troops discovered an illegal prison and house used by al Qaeda for executions. Nearby, forces also uncovered a torture chamber and makeshift courthouse linked to the terrorist network, he said.
In raids around the site, coalition elements uncovered a medical facility where injured al Qaeda operatives received treatment, a stockpile of rocket-propelled grenades and a vehicle wired for use as a car bomb.
"This array of facilities is an example of how the enemy seeks to consolidate and create an operating base from which they can conduct attacks on the local population, and launch spectacular attacks into Baghdad," Bergner said. "It is further evidence of the importance of applying pressure in and around Baghdad to remove extremist safe-havens and operating bases."
Local residents in Mosul this week led Iraqi and coalition forces to a weapons cache and a large bomb factory where troops found insurgents assembling four truck bombs and two car bombs "in an assembly-line manner," Bergner said. In conjunction with this raid, combined forces nabbed 32 suspected terrorists.
"This is an example of what can be achieved by working and living in the neighborhoods with the people we seek to secure, and operating in partnership with Iraqi police and army forces," he said.
Speaking about operations in Anbar province, Bergner said troops there discovered a facility where improvised explosive devices were being produced, seizing 66 IEDs and bomb-making components.
In Diyala province, the confidence and trust between local tribes and security has led to success, Bergner said, quoting the provincial police director. Troops there have detained or killed roughly 100 al Qaeda operatives and netted multiple weapons caches, he added.
The coalition's Iraqi counterparts are "very much in the fight," the general said. "They are increasingly the first line of defense, while taking casualties at rates of two to three times that of the coalition, and they are not deterred in their mission."
Some 10,000 Iraqis will join their nation's army in the next two weeks, Bergner said, and Maliki is considering expanding the Iraqi security force size "to meet the requirements both today and into the future."
In recent operations in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, Iraqi special forces detained the leader of a kidnapping, murder and IED cell. The suspect also has provided false identification, uniforms and vehicles to insurgent fighters, Bergner said.
In a dangerous Baghdad area, Bergner visited the Joint Security Station -- one of the mixed communities where Iraqi army and police forces are working in concert.
"I saw firsthand the cooperation, the integration and the courage of those forces," he said. "They sit astride a very tense area in the Adhamiya neighborhood, but they're helping to restore security to this area."
Bergner said that coalition progress is mirrored by progress among the Iraqi people.
"Ultimately, the progress of the Iraqi people is our progress," he said. "We are humbled by their courage, and reminded every day of their sacrifice. We are working hard to help them move forward, but this will remain a tough fight that is likely to get harder before it gets easier."