By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 11, 2007 - U.S. soldiers are sweeping through a Baghdad neighborhood to clear out explosives and extremists, a coalition commander said today. "We've been working in the East Rashid district going after the bad guys and doing very, very well and trying to give a little hope to the Iraqis ... so they don't have to live in fear any more," Army Col. John RisCassi told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Iraq.
RisCassi commands 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, a rapid response mobile force deployed from Vilseck, Germany, and assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad. He and his soldiers are tasked with detecting and diffusing improvised explosive devices and destroying terror cells in a troubled community near Baghdad's heavily fortified International Zone.
"We have a populace down there that is basically being bullied into doing things they don't want to do, harboring al Qaeda or thugs or bad guys, whatever you want to call them," RisCassi said. "I talked to an older gentleman a few days ago, and he's been living there for 25 years, and he just called them bad people, and this was a bad place with bad people in it."
Those bad people have planted plenty of IEDs, the colonel said. In just their first 72 hours on the ground, he explained, 2nd Stryker soldiers located 30 such explosives. "That is a weapon of choice around here, ... and we take it very serious," RisCassi said. "We go as slow as we need to to figure this out."
Part of that figuring process comes from thinking like a terrorist, the colonel said. "First of all, we do a good analysis by saying, 'Hey, if you were the bad guy, where would you put these things?'"
The second part comes from befriending and enabling Iraqi citizens, the colonel said. "We're working hard with the local nationals, the people that live there. They don't want these things on their streets, either. So we have tips lines. We have sources, and they come forward, and they tell us where they are."
While roadside bombs are familiar foes, RisCassi said, the recent advent of houses rigged to explode keeps his soldiers on constant alert.
"You know, we look for wires. We study it very, very hard to see if there's any indicator where these may be," he said. "We've got working military dogs, explosive-sniffing dogs, to try to determine where these houses are.
But the best intelligence about "house-borne IEDs" comes from Iraqi citizens themselves, RisCassi explained. "The most telltale sign is someone tells you, 'That's a bad house, and there's something in there,'" he said.
While 2nd Stryker soldiers are barely one month into their mission, they already are preparing Iraqis to take over, RisCassi said, starting with local citizens who have volunteered to assist coalition forces.
"First, we had to secure East Rashid, ... and we're just now getting into the Iraqi security volunteers," the colonel explained. "We just started working with Iraqi forces as of yesterday."
Completing their strike force mission as quickly as possible will help pave the way for lasting security, RisCassi explained.
"That's the big key of success here, doing what we do and then turning it over as quickly as we can to put an Iraqi face on it so the Iraqi people can see their own securing and taking care of them," he said. "And that seems to go a long way."
(David Mays works in New Media at American Forces Information Service.)