By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 16, 2007 - Denying the enemy sanctuary is the major capability brought to bear by surge forces in Iraq, a commander in the region said today. "We do believe the enemy is on the run," said Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, Multinational Division Central and 3rd Infantry Division commander, as he spoke with "bloggers" and online journalists. "We've had a good effect; we've killed or captured more than 500 of the enemy in those sanctuaries."
Using combined artillery, aviation and ground forces since major surge operations kicked off in mid-June, Lynch said, his troops have completed operations "Marne Torch," "Marne Avalanche," and as of yesterday, "Marne Husky."
Marne Husky, part of Multinational Corps Iraq's overall "Operation Phantom Strike," is an aviation-based combat offensive targeting Sunni and Shiia military safe havens and weapons smugglers in the southern belts of Baghdad. The 3,900 U.S. troops in the area are focusing on choking the flow of Iranian-supplied bombs and weapons reaching the capital city.
The general noted changes in the strategy of forces since his previous deployment to Iraq. Rather than staying in large forward operating bases where they would routinely go out into remote villages, troops now are living on company- or battalion-sized patrol bases among the Iraqi people.
Lynch said that since the enemy has a "phenomenal ability to fill a void" within 18 hours of clearing and leaving an area, troops must stay among the people.
"We no longer commute to work," he said. "We live out with the population. This gives Iraqis a sense of security and allows them to be part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem."
In addition to keeping areas free of the enemy, residing within the villages contributes to an increase in tips on the location of weapons caches, improvised explosive devices and insurgents.
"What wins the fight here is human intelligence," Lynch said. "I can't tell you the number of IEDs and bad guys we've taken off the street based on locals saying, 'Here it is.'"
Citizens also are helping to root out the enemy by joining the "Concerned Citizens Program." Lynch said that nearly 7,000 citizens, mostly Sunnis, have volunteered to secure their own villages by blocking entrances to monitor the flow of al Qaeda and other militant groups. Lynch said intelligence from local sources has increased exponentially since the start of the program.
"These are individuals who've said they'd had enough of violence and intimidation by al Qaeda," he said. By donning road guard vests and carrying their own weapons, they are standing up to extremist violence.
"They do want to be part of the solution," Lynch said. "They don't want weapons; they don't want money; they just want to be recognized by the government of Iraq. ... Once the government would recognize them, ... this would continue to expand."