By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 10, 2007 - The security situation in eastern Baghdad is improving, the coalition commander for that region said today. Attacks against coalition forces and Iraqi civilians are down, said Army Col. John Castles, commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. "From where I'm sitting, things are starting to look pretty good," he told Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Camp Taji, Iraq. "Overall throughout the area of operations, the security situation has been improving."
Castles' unit is responsible for security operations in Baghdad's Adhamiyah and Sadr City areas. Adhamiyah is a Sunni-dominated area in eastern Baghdad and has been a stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq. Sadr City is a Shiia section of the city where the influence of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is paramount. All together, the 4,000-member brigade has responsibility for the security of 3.5 million people.
The Falcon brigade was the first surge brigade to arrive in Baghdad, in February. The unit has five combat outposts in the security region and three joint security stations. "For seven months, we've had paratroopers out living in the sector, living with the people they protect," Castles said.
He said people in the region have become more comfortable with U.S. soldiers. "We've seen a steady trend downward of attacks," he said.
Attacks against civilians, car bombs, indirect fire attacks, kidnappings and sectarian killings are all down, he said. For example, there were more than 60 mortar or rocket attacks in May. In July, that number dropped to about 40, he said.
In some places the brigade is ahead of expectations, and in others it is behind, Castles said. Paratroopers have participated in more than 7,500 patrols and conducted more than 300 named operations. The soldiers have been destroying and disrupting terrorist cells and special-action groups and have turned over 300 detainees and the evidence against them to Iraqi authorities.
Iraqi soldiers and police are active partners, and Iraqi units are often "in the lead," Castles said. For example, Iraqi forces are responsible for protecting the 3 million to 4 million people making a religious pilgrimage to Baghdad this week to commemorate the death of Imam Musa Ibn Jaafar Al-Kazim, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. This is an important holiday for Shiias.
"They have done an outstanding job," said Castles, whose brigade is standing by to support the Iraqi troops if needed.
The brigade and its embedded provincial reconstruction team are working with local government leaders and the people of the region to bring services back to the region. The brigade has financed 30 projects totaling $2.5 million. Another 60 projects are set to start, at a price tag of $8 million. The PRTs give commanders the ability to plan projects to prop up long-term stability, Castles said.
The brigade is maintaining a low profile in Sadr City, but leaders are meeting with local mayors, members of neighborhood advisory councils and tribal sheikhs.
Castles said the coalition soldiers have been doing a great job under tough conditions. He noted that some U.S. soldiers are on their second or third prolonged deployment to Iraq.
The Iraqi people and security forces are also stepping forward to challenge terrorists, he said. "(The Iraqi security forces) are not just waiting for us to solve their problems for them," Castles said.
The capability of the Iraq forces and the involvement of the Iraqi people give reason for optimism, he said. "While there's still a lot that needs to be done, there's no question there's progress being made," he said.