By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 27, 2007 - Iraqi and coalition forces are consolidating gains they have made in Iraq's Anbar province, the coalition's ground commander in the region said today. "A gunshot heard right now in the city of Ramadi is a rare thing," Marine Brig. Gen. Mark Gurganus said during a phone interview.
Ramadi was the site of pitched fighting between Sunni insurgents and coalition forces. Al Qaeda in Iraq directed the fighting, and thousands of innocent Iraqis paid the price. Today, Ramadi is safe enough to bring the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff into downtown for a walkabout. Marine Gen. Peter Pace visited the region last week.
This week, there were 96 "incidents" in all of Anbar province. Coalition officials define an incident as any report of contact with the enemy, a car-bomb attack, a cache find, etc. Last year at this time, there were well over 400 incidents a week in the province. And the trend continues downward, Gurganus said.
Most of the contact with the enemy occurs in the eastern portion of the province, where Multinational Force West's area of responsibility abuts that of Multinational Division Baghdad.
Al Qaeda is entrenched in the region around Karma. That allows the terror group to get operatives into Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad and the northern part of the country, Gurganus said.
Coalition forces divide the province into three areas. The western part of the province is called Area of Operations Denver. Marine Regimental Combat Team 2 commands the area and is supported by an Army battalion. In a major desert operation, Marines and soldiers are looking for insurgents attempting to establish training camps and trying to exploit the system of wadis, deep waterways that are dry except during the rainy season, to insinuate their way back into the cities, Gurganus said.
Area of Operations Topeka centers on the provincial capital of Ramadi. U.S. and Iraqi army forces are turning areas there over to Iraqi police for security responsibility, but U.S. forces will continue to work to build Iraqi security capacity in the region, the general said.
Area of Operations Raleigh in the east is the one area where there is still fighting going on, Gurganus said. He noted that Multinational Force West and Multinational Division Baghdad are working together to close the "seam" between the commands at Karma. Sixty-nine of the 96 incidents in the province this week were in and around Karma. Marine Regimental Combat Team 6 is augmented by an Army battalion in this region.
Iraqi army forces in the province have made tremendous gains, Gurganus said. The 1st Iraqi Division is under command of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command. The 7th Iraqi Division in the west remains under coalition command but will soon be at full strength, Gurganus said.
"We are still partnered with them, and this will continue even when they are completely under Iraqi control," he said. "(This is) because our goal out here is not necessarily the building of numbers, but of capacity within these forces."