By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 18, 2007 - Iraqi security forces have made much progress toward readiness in the past year within Multinational Division North's area of responsibility, a top official in the region said today. Speaking to military analysts via teleconference from Baqubah in Diyala province, Army Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy commanding general for operations of Multinational Division North, called the change "significant." Baqubah is about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad on the Diyala River. Four Iraqi army divisions are in the region, which is about the size of Pennsylvania.
"We are starting to see the key measure of effectiveness, ... which is independent operations -- being able to plan, coordinate and execute operations on their own, standing and fighting against an adversary that is trying to kill them," he said. "Only a year ago, there were times ... where they would be engaged by a demanding adversary, they'd drop their weapons and head in the other direction. Not the case any longer.
"I'm not painting a lilacs and roses picture, but in the broader perspective, clearly, we are seeing improvement from the readiness perspective of the Iraqi army," Bednarek said.
While the Iraqi police officers are making some progress as well, Bednarek said they are still a "step below" the army in terms of readiness.
"They are not where they need to be. They're getting better. They're strength has increased just in shear numbers. Their logistics tail for supporting that increase in strength has also improved, but bottom line up front for both the army and the police (is that) logistics remain their Achilles heel and, in my view, will probably remain that way for at least another 18 months," Bednarek said.
Officials in northern Iraq launched Operation Lightning Hammer II at the start of the month. The offensive partners 12,000 coalition forces with 14,000 Iraqi security forces to drive al Qaeda out of the provinces of Salah Ad Din, Ninewa, Diyala and Kirkuk. Officials are supporting the forces with attack helicopters, close-air support, Bradley fighting vehicles, Stryker vehicles, and tanks.
Its predecessor, Operation Lightning Hammer, focused operations on the Diyala River Valley, northeast of Baqubah, where they believe the insurgents have fled to once they were driven from their previous stronghold.
Officials there also are working hard with local tribal sheiks to garner support from tribes disenchanted by al Qaeda's tactics. It is more difficult there, though, to mimic the much heralded successes of similar operations in Anbar province, Bednarek said. Anbar is predominately Sunni. The Diyala province is home to 23 major tribes and as many as 100 sub-tribes, and its makeup is Sunni, Shiia and Kurdish.
Still, Bednarek said, he has seen progress.
"The reaction of the citizens has been very positive. I think ... not only in Diyala province, but also in our other provinces ... where the citizens are starting to stand up and take a position on their own," the general said. "They have seen what al Qaeda has to offer, which is nothing. They have seen that the horrific acts of violence against women, family, children, infrastructure ... is not the future. They see that they can have a future of prosperity and security ... without al Qaeda and are starting to fight back."
Locals also are starting to trust the local Iraqi security forces, he said, which was a problem in the past. Locals are starting to report weapons caches and emplaced bombs to security forces patrolling the areas.
"Engaging the tribal sheiks, coming together to be part of the future as opposed to the dark past is something that we're putting huge amount of senior-leader energy in every day," Bednarek said.