By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 3, 2007 - The military surge of additional troops into Iraq seems to be working, U.S. Central Command's top enlisted leader said. "The surge was brought in to create a time span where the Iraqi forces and Iraqi government could go ahead and get some momentum going," Marine Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey A. Morin, the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Central Command, said during an interview Aug. 1.
Morin is the "eyes and ears" of Central Command's chief, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon.
Since taking office in March, the sergeant major has been to Iraq four times. He goes to the country for three to five weeks at a time and meets with troops, commanders and Iraqis or all ranks and professions. He then briefs Fallon on his impressions.
The U.S. military surge into Iraq has dominated the sergeant major's time in office. Five brigade equivalents have moved into Baghdad and are now participating in Operation Phantom Thunder, bringing the total to between 10 and 12 brigades operating in and around the Iraqi capital. The operation clears neighborhoods in Baghdad, holds them safe from terrorists' re-infiltration and then builds infrastructure in the neighborhood.
Morin said he has seen a great improvement in the lives of Iraqi people since March. He has visited some neighborhoods, known as "mahalas," a number of times and said he can chart improvements.
"In March, the occupancy rates in some of the mahalas was 25, 35 or 40 percent," he said, adding that markets were closed, schools shuttered, and there were no Iraqi police officers or soldiers on the streets.
Then surge troops rolled in and introduced joint security stations, where coalition troops partner with Iraqi security forces, Morin explained. "What's the byproduct of that? Kids going to school again, shops opening (and) selling everything from sandals to safes to paint to major appliances. It's like Home Depot or Wal-Mart on a street," he said.
The Iraqi people are looking to the future, Morin said. "They are buying generators -- you don't buy those unless you have confidence," he said. "Their families are getting back to normal. You see an old lady gardening, a mom and dad watching the kids play in the street. Mahala occupancy is up to 80 to 85 percent."
Iraqi forces are improving too, he said. The surge included three more brigades of Iraqi troops. Coalition forces are partnering with Iraqi army and police, and their capabilities are increasing. "Not only have we increased our numbers on the battlefield, but there are more Iraqi police and soldiers," Morin said. "It's saturating the battlespace."
The surge has increased security in the city, and that is starting to give the government momentum. The Iraqi people see the benefits of affiliating with the government and the coalition. As they see their complaints and tips acted upon by Iraqi police officers and soldiers, they become more confident that the insurgents will be dealt with, Morin said.
He also noted that the coalition is finding an unprecedented numbers of weapons and munitions caches, including items that can be made into improvised explosive devices. This increase in cache finds partly can be attributed to Iraqis turning in caches. Iraqis also are pointing out insurgents, helping maintain their neighborhoods, and supporting local government councils, the sergeant major said.
Terrorists and insurgent groups are reading the writing on the walls and leaving. "We are definitely inside their decision cycle now," Morin said. "The surge is allowing us to do that.
Initially, the surge into Baghdad produced more coalition casualties. May and June were tough months for U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq. But in July the number of casualties dropped, Morin said. Taking weapons off the streets has something to do with this; the change in attitude among Iraqis toward the coalition is another part, he said.
Any force living in an area develops a feel for the people, the sergeant major said, and vice versa. The force -- and it is increasingly a combined coalition and Iraqi force -- feels responsible for the people of the neighborhood. They learn who fits and who does not. The people of the region see who is protecting them and who they can approach. This is happening in Baghdad, Morin said.
However, the sergeant major acknowledged that more needs to be done in Iraq and that the surge has really just gotten under way. The enemy has a vote, and terrorists can always launch vicious car-bomb attacks, he said. These attacks draw attention, but are not changing the trend toward normalcy, he added.