By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 16, 2007 - Iraqi communities, once lawless and infested with terrorists, are safer today thanks to a just-completed mission, a coalition commander said today. "Through full-spectrum operations, we were able to utilize Iraqi security forces and the assistance of concerned citizen groups to seek out and kill or capture al Qaeda that operates in our area," Army Col. Terry Ferrell told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Iraq. "Al Qaeda has suffered a significant blow."
Ferrell commands 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Ga., the last of the U.S. troop surge to arrive in Iraq back in June. He and his soldiers assigned to Multinational Division Center just wrapped up Operation Marne Torch II in Iraq's Arab Jabour region.
Their mission resulted in the killing or capture of more than 250 suspected insurgents, the discovery of 30 improvised explosive devices and dozens of weapons caches, and the destruction of 12 boats used to ferry explosives and ammunition across the Tigris River en route to Baghdad. Throughout the operation, the colonel explained, information provided by Iraqi citizens proved priceless.
"Specifically, I want to point out on the caches," Ferrell elaborated. "Out of the 32 that we found just in our battle space, 17 were identified, found and brought forward, or we were taken to, by concerned citizens, which is a huge asset."
During Operation Marne Torch II, the colonel explained, his soldiers and Iraqi forces were able to push south of Patrol Base Hawkes into vastly rural areas of the region where insurgents had operated with impunity and locals cowered in fear.
"It gave the citizens in those areas that we were able to go in and do the operations the confidence that they can come out and start to be a part of the concerned citizens in that area," Ferrell explained. "And that movement now will continue to grow."
As of today, 782 concerned citizens have stepped forward to offer assistance and information to coalition forces in Arab Jabour, Ferrell said, adding that he expects that number to soon grow upwards of 1,000.
"They want to have a normal life," he said. "They want to be able to have their children go to school. They want to see their children grow up. They themselves want to be able to have a routine day, have a job, go to work, and not live in fear of losing their life because they have not succumbed to the rules and the strictness of al Qaeda."
Even with the success of Marne Torch II in virtually eliminating terror cells in Arab Jabour, Ferrell said, he and his soldiers are always on the look out for signs of new insurgent operations.
"That does not say that (al Qaeda) doesn't have the ability to regenerate," he said. "We understand that. We all understand that. That's why we maintain the presence. That's why we continue the operations. That's why we stay in the fight every day."
(David Mays works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)