By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 27, 2007 - Iraqi citizens are helping coalition forces hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in a vast rural area south of Baghdad, a military commander said today. "As the summer went along, we started building the confidence of the people," Army Lt. Col. Ken Adgie told online journalists and "bloggers" from Patrol Base Murray, which is situated beside the Tigris River in the mostly agricultural region of Arab Jabour.
With its desolate location, rugged terrain, thick palm groves and almost-exclusively Sunni population, the region is a perfect breeding ground for terrorism, Adgie said.
"There is no Iraqi army here. There is no Iraqi police here. And there's no governmental structure here," he said. "What you had was a petri dish for al Qaeda to grow."
Earlier this month, Adgie and the soldiers he commands in 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, of Multinational Division Center launched Operation Marne Torch II. The ongoing mission aims to stop the flow of weapons, including improvised explosive devices, that local citizens have been manufacturing with al Qaeda funding.
"The al Qaeda that's here is not guys ... from Syria or Somalia. They are local people who grew up here," Adgie said. "They were bad, bad teenagers who stole cars, ... and (with) the lure of fast money from al Qaeda ... they joined al Qaeda, and they carry out al Qaeda's bidding."
These home-grown terrorists employed "ultra-violence" against their fellow villagers to "strike fear in their hearts," the colonel explained. Coalition forces from the final phase of the U.S. troop surge streamed into the region earlier this summer.
"In early August, we started seeing the first of the concerned local citizens come forward," Adgie said. "And they started providing us with just a lot of information on who the bad guys were."
The "concerned citizen" movement was greatly bolstered last month, the colonel explained, when a retired brigadier general from Saddam Hussein's former army encouraged more local people to assist the coalition effort.
"(He) decided, 'Enough is enough. I'll be the leader,'" Adgie said. "He stepped up, stepped out into the light of day and helped us recruit this concerned citizen organization."
That organization has grown from 87 to 538 people in just seven weeks, the colonel explained, and its members provide crucial information.
"Al Qaeda operates under a veil of secrecy. No one knows who al Qaeda is," Adgie said. "Well that's no longer possible when the guy you went to high school with is a concerned citizen, and he can look you in the eye and say: 'You're al Qaeda.'"
Information provided by Iraqi citizens is always corroborated by a second source, the colonel explained, such as video from unmanned aerial vehicles. But without that initial human intelligence, he said, the mission would be far more difficult.
"It allows us to take that ... needle in a haystack and make it into a much smaller haystack," Adgie said.
A select, highly vetted group of concerned citizens actually lives on post with coalition forces, wears military uniforms and accompanies troops as they raid suspected al Qaeda safe houses, the colonel explained.
"If there's 10 guys in a house and one's bad, (the concerned citizens) can say: 'That's the guy you want.'" Adgie said.
Since the beginning of Operation Marne Torch II, coalition forces have killed nine enemy fighters, captured 71 detainees, located 14 IEDs, and uncovered 12 weapons caches according to Multinational Division Center officials.
"Al Qaeda is losing right now," Adgie said. "And that's a good thing for Iraqi citizens."
(David Mays works in the New Media branch at American Forces Information Service.)