By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 17, 2007 - The return of 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team to Fort Hood, Texas, proves the surge of American troops into Iraq is working, a coalition commander said today. "(That unit) is about to depart, and there is not another surge brigade coming in behind it," Army Col. John Lehr told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Camp Taji, Iraq. "We are moving over there to take the larger portion of the mission set, the remainder of the Diyala province, which is absolutely huge. I believe it is a success story."
Lehr commands the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, deployed from Fort Lewis, Wash., and assigned to Multinational Division North. He and his soldiers have been working to secure three Iraqi provinces north of Baghdad.
"We were a key element in what's referred to as the northern belt," the colonel explained. "We have pushed the enemy out of the northern belt. It is significantly more secure than it was just a month or two ago."
The fact that his soldiers will replace the Fort Hood "Grey Wolf" team in Diyala speaks volumes about the overall strategy in Iraq, Lehr said.
"I feel, based on my battle space and what we've accomplished, that the tactical purpose behind the surge is working," he said. "And now we're able to expand further out (in) concentric circles away from Baghdad."
Lehr's unit has faced three primary insurgent cells across its vast battle space: al Qaeda, Shiia extremists and Sunni "rejectionists," the colonel said, but to fight each group, the unit has employed the same three-pronged strategy.
"One: erode the insurgent's resources. Two: disintegrate the insurgent's capability, and I'll define that as decapitating the head of the monster. And then three: separating the insurgent from his base of support, which is the population," the colonel explained.
Lehr said accomplishing the first two prongs led his team to success in the third.
"We did that by precision, intel-driven operations," he said. "We have been very successful targeting extremist leaders and taking them off the battlefield."
When it became clear that insurgents were no match against coalition forces, the colonel explained, Iraqi citizens became emboldened to act.
"Once the people have seen that we are capable of providing a secure environment, it's amazing how they have come forward and said, 'We're glad you're here; we're tired of al Qaeda; and now we feel safe that we can participate in our own security.'" Lehr said. "They want to do that, but they had been extremely intimidated prior to this. They were scared for their lives."
Besides more information provided by Iraqi citizens, Lehr said, he is seeing other tangible signs his soldiers have made a difference, like the dramatic decease in IED attacks in part of his area of operation due to the increasing danger to those who emplace the devices.
"The average (emplacer) laying an IED realizes, 'Hey this is serious business! They're killing people out here, and they're eliminating the leadership. I'm not going to do this for $100 anymore!'" the colonel said. "That is a huge metric for us to determine how successful we're being."
That success, the colonel said, will only multiply as Iraqis continue to take an active role in their future.
"We are making progress daily on this," he said. "Every day, every month, and in the next couple of quarters, it's going to get better and better."
(David Mays works in New Media at American Forces Information Service.)