By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
July 30, 2007 - Operations in Iraq are putting pressure on insurgents, keeping them off balance and eliminating their safe havens, a senior spokesman there said today. "We have established a degree of tactical momentum ... and will continue to build on that momentum," Navy Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, deputy spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said during an in-country media roundtable this morning.
"We continue to pressure former sanctuaries in the Baghdad belts -- around Ramadi and in and around Baqubah -- denying (al Qaeda in Iraq) freedom of movement and disrupting extremist secret cells while increasing the confidence of the local citizens in the coalition and Iraqi security force."
Already this year, coalition forces have seized or destroyed more weapons caches than in all of 2006, Fox said. Just last week, coalition and Iraqi security forces seized more than 120 caches, he added.
Tips are coming in from Iraqi citizens in record numbers. In June, 23,000 tips were called in to coalition and Iraqi forces -- four times the number at this point in 2006.
"The pace and number of weapons caches seized reflects the pressure being applied by the surge of operations. Nevertheless the enemy retains the capability to launch spectacular attacks, as we have seen them do with tragic results for innocent Iraqi citizens," Fox said.
Iraqi security forces conducted a raid last week in Nasiriyah, seizing a cache with 42 improvised explosive devices, about 400 rockets, 70 mortar rounds, and 11 heavy machine guns.
Fox said another trend in the region pointing to the effectiveness of the surge is that tribes and leaders previously pitted against coalition forces are now joining the fight against insurgents. He cited a handful of recent events that indicate the "people of Iraq are rejecting the hatred, violence, sectarianism and Taliban-like state offered by (al Qaeda)."
-- One hundred sheikhs and 400 religious and political leaders met in Ramadi on July 7 for a conference called "Promise of the People";
-- Fifty tribal leaders met at the governor's house in Baqubah earlier this month to discuss security and services and pledged to work together in the Muqdadiyah Tribal Conference;
-- July 16 in Taji, Sunni and Shiia sheiks pledged unity to one another to stop sectarian attacks; and
-- Sixteen local sheiks and tribal leaders in Khalis on July 23 pledged on behalf of some 75 sheiks to work to end the violence.
Air power also is surging in support of ground forces, delivering fire power and other support in record numbers since the since the surge began, said Air Force Maj. Gen. David M. Edgington, who joined Fox at the roundtable. Edgington is director of the Air Component Coordination Element for Multinational Force Iraq. He is responsible for synchronizing all air assets into combat operations.
"Our purpose is to integrate our forces with the ground forces to synchronize the effects that we are able to bring to the battle in support of the coalition force," he said.
Edgington said air support is flying 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In Iraq and Afghanistan combined, Air Mobility Command refuelers are flying 50 sorties a day, delivering some 3 million pounds of fuel. Airlift aircraft are flying 200 sorties daily, carrying about 2,000 passengers. These missions include taking troops to different posts and in and out of theater, medical evacuation flights, and transporting detainees.
Air Force cargo flights each day allow 160 trucks to stay off the roads and avoid the hazards of ground travel, Edgington said. "Taking 160 trucks off the roads a day is a huge effort on the part of the airlifters," Edgington said.
While he said he couldn't discuss operational details of combat air power in theater, the Air Force general showed eight video clips of recent combat action against insurgent troops. In the clips, airpower assets are seen destroying insurgent weapons caches, bomb factories and snipers on rooftops.
Edgington reported that Iraqi airpower abilities are growing at a "healthy rate."
Iraqi forces have C-130s flying in support of Iraqi and coalition missions. They also have surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and are conducting pilot training. They do not, however, have any air combat power yet, the general said.