By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 27, 2007 - For the past four months, coalition forces have battled to take control of a former insurgent badland south of Baghdad that had no Iraq security forces, a senior commander in the area said today. For the past two years, the predominately Sunni areas around Arab Jabour and Hawr Rajab have served as a thriving haven for al Qaeda terrorists who used the Tigris River valley to funnel bombs, weapons and ammunition into Baghdad.
Since June 15, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, has -- for the most part -- driven out the insurgency, and a recent rallying of locals against al Qaeda promises a more secure future for the area, said Army Col. Terry R. Ferrell, the unit's commander.
"We are building from ground zero. As we occupied the battle space, it truly was (an al Qaeda) sanctuary. There was no army; there was no police; there was no governance," Ferrell said.
The brigade combat team was the last of the surge forces to deploy to Baghdad. Since June, the unit has cleared 1,300 buildings, destroyed 81 weapons caches, detained 443 suspects, and encountered more than 80 bombs, Ferrell said.
"It's been a challenging operation, to say the least. But the soldiers ... continue to take the fight every day, and it's phenomenal what you see these kids doing," Ferrell said.
Earlier this month, officials launched Operation Marne Torch II, which combines airpower, ground forces and locals fighting alongside the coalition for fast-moving raid operations on al Qaeda strongholds. Since then, more than 600 local citizens have sided with the coalition forces and have begun providing security for their villages. Already this month, nine insurgents were killed and 71 captured, 14 bombs and 12 weapons caches were recovered, and nearly 200 buildings have been cleared.
Coalition forces have one patrol base set up in Arab Jabour and are increasing their presence in the area by building a new patrol base. At the same time, they are working to build a local security force.
Ferrell said officials there are working fast to get locals streamlined into the Iraqi security-force system. A recruiting drive is planned for November, he said, adding that a long-term Iraqi security force presence in the area is necessary for continued stability there.
"Security forces have to come into our area and replace us," the colonel said. "If our presence is not here, then al Qaeda will come back."