By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 15, 2007 – The quickened tempo and increasingly localized nature of joint U.S.-Iraqi security operations are gradually pushing al Qaeda and related insurgent groups out of Iraq's neighborhoods, a coalition spokesman said this week. "We have significantly increased the pressure on al Qaeda. We are going places where they have not had us operating," said Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, Multinational Force Iraq deputy chief of staff for strategic effects, during a June 13 call with online journalists.
"The picture I'm portraying for you is one where there is a significant level of pressure that's now taking away the elements that these extremist forces have been using to operate against us," he said.
Bergner described operations to: safeguard approaches to Baghdad province and block the flow of insurgents and weapons into the city; anticipate and prevent the flow of al Qaeda to new areas of operation like Diyala province; and disrupt bomb-making networks.
"We're adjusting our plan to pursue them every time they try to escape from the pressure that we're putting on," Bergner explained. "There's no question that all of the operations I just described are putting them in a position where they are going to increasingly stoop to the depths of depravity that you see" in events like the June 13 bombing of the Samarra's Golden Mosque.
The surge in local-level operations is being made possible by the presence of joint U.S.-Iraqi security stations in areas of Baghdad, as well as the standing-up of provincial and provisional security forces in other parts of the country, the general said.
"There's a much better interaction and integration of the (Iraqi security forces), and it's resulting in the kinds of outcomes that I mentioned," Bergner noted. "Every night we're operating against either an (improvised-explosive-device) cell ... or some sort of secret cell extremist that's operating against us. And it's a steady drumbeat."
Meanwhile, sheikhs are being approached by Iraqi and coalition forces to "secure their own neighborhoods and help provide protection on a local basis" in many Sunni tribal areas, particularly Anbar province, Bergner said.
He described a program to set up provisional forces made up of local residents, but quickly move them into formal Iraqi police or military arrangements as the training capacity becomes available.
"What started as a tribal thing on a local basis out in Anbar has transitioned to the Anbar police academy being opened (and) the 7th Iraqi Army Division having a specific recruitment relationship with the localities," Bergner said. "So what you've basically done is, you've brought the local people and the local sheikhs to be integrated with their own government ... security force formations."
As the Anbar model is expanded to other parts of the country, Bergner said, officials expect terrorist groups will push back.
"The sheikhs and the local people there have made progress," he noted. "You bet that al Qaeda and other extremists are going to come after them and try to disrupt that."
Still, he observed, "the closer we get them integrated with their government and with their security forces, the more enduring the progress is going to be."
Thus the need to connect "the dots between the people, the forces and their government," he explained.
That partnership model readily lends itself to Sunni tribes, Bergner said, but could also be adapted to Shiite militias willing to work with official government forces. "It's not a Sunni-specific thing, though certainly the examples I used would suggest it's most pronounced in those areas where al Qaeda is terrorizing Sunni neighborhoods," Bergner explained.
"It's something that those who are willing to turn away from violence need to know that they have that option to do it, and that we'll help them find a place to responsibly serve their country," he continued.
With the increased number of partnerships around the country and a slowly increasing willingness of locals to cooperate with the joint forces, counterinsurgency operations are becoming more precise and more effective, Bergner said.
"That's not to say this isn't a tough fight," he emphasized. "We are going to have a tough fight for the rest of the summer."
However, he said, the surge effort throughout the country, along with a better-integrated U.S.-Iraqi joint force, is having a clear effect at the micro-level.
"You have to help work local security issues on a local level in order for the local people to find the confidence to stand up to the threats that they're having," Bergner explained. "It doesn't matter what the locality is, the nature of the effort is about local solutions to local security problems."
(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)