By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
June 25, 2007 – Ten days into offensive strikes under Operation Phantom Thunder, the commander of Task Force Marne said his troops are one-fifth of the way into their "decisive" and "deliberate" operation in the southern provinces of Iraq. Soldiers taking part in Operation Marne Torch, part of the overall corps-level offensive, are working to block "accelerants of violence" into Baghdad, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said during a news conference in Baghdad yesterday. They're also working to secure the Iraqi population and defeat sectarian violence within the country.
"We believe that the people of Iraq want what we want back in the states, and that is security," he said. "They want to be able to go to work; they want to be able to send their kids to school; they want to be able to flourish as a society and not be afraid of being attacked by extremist elements."
The general said four enemy sanctuaries have been identified within his troops' battle space. "(These are) places were the enemy was storing munitions, conducting training, building (improvised explosive devices) and using them for attacks against ... the Iraqi people and American soldiers," he said.
Lynch said the main focus of Marne Torch is the terrorist sanctuary of Arab Jabour, where a large number of Iraqi security forces are primarily conducting operations.
"Those Iraqi security force members are critical to conduct this operation," he said, describing where his troops are working along the east and west banks of the Tigris River. "We're absolutely convinced that extremists are using the Tigris River valley as a way to bring violence into Baghdad, and Marne Torch is to stop that."
The general said Iraqi or coalition troops must have a persistent presence in the area or rely on the local population to secure their own areas while a rule of law is established there. Lynch also said the support of the population is vital for success.
"Acts of violence are taking place, and the people of that locality know those acts of violence are taking place," he said. Coalition and Iraqi forces must continue to encourage the local people to help provide security in their own territory.
"Then we (must) ensure that this area remains a denied sanctuary for enemy forces," the general said.
Lynch said he doesn't want the mostly Sunni extremist elements leaving the area of Arab Jabour. "What we want to do is not allow them to leave, but to kill or capture them inside of the battlespace," he said.
The general said his troops have conducted an average of 200 patrols per day as part of Operation Marne Torch. Within the first 10 days of the operation, 130 people, all with known ties to the insurgency, were arrested, he said. Twenty-five of those are considered to be high-value targets and leaders of the extremist network in the area.
Lynch said operations have uncovered 49 weapons caches and have removed 47 improvised explosive devices from Iraqi streets in addition to removing 17 extremists' boats from the Tigris River.
"By the end of the mission, it will be a stabilized area," Lynch said. "(Extremists) won't use it as a sanctuary, and we will deny his ability to conduct acts of violence in Baghdad."