By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 27, 2007 - Coalition and Iraqi operations are keeping up the pressure on al Qaeda insurgents in Iraq, a senior U.S. military official told reporters in Baghdad today. Although al Qaeda in Iraq "retains the capacity" to replace a series of leaders killed or captured in recent months during engagements against coalition troops and Iraqi security forces, the terrorist group clearly is under duress, said Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman.
Several al Qaeda chieftains operating in Tarmiyah, Mosul, Baghdad and other areas across Iraq have been killed or detained during anti-insurgent actions as part of surge operations, Smith said.
Success achieved against al Qaeda in Iraq "is placing strains at the top, restricting their freedom to maneuver, forcing al Qaeda members to constantly be in a survival mode vice planning their next attack, and has clearly eroded the experience level at the senior levels of al Qaeda's various networks," Smith explained.
In addition, concerned Iraqi citizens are playing an ever-increasing role in countering al Qaeda operations in Iraq, Smith said.
"Now 77,000 strong, these brave Iraqis, once terrorized and intimidated by al Qaeda and other insurgents, are volunteering to support security in their neighborhoods," Smith said. "The volunteers receive basic training and then patrol their neighborhoods and man checkpoints."
The efforts of these citizen groups have "an enormous effect on the security environment and will help to bridge the gap, while the Iraqi security forces steadily grow in numbers and capability to one day take over this responsibility throughout all of Iraq," Smith said.
Smith also saluted the efforts of courageous coalition and Iraqi engineers who quickly rebuilt the Qayyarah Bridge that spans the Tigris River in Ninevah province. The bridge, which is important to local commerce, was destroyed by an al Qaeda truck bomb last week, he said.
"Working through the night, Iraqi and coalition forces engineers repaired the span in just 12 hours," Smith said. More than 1,200 feet in length, the repaired bridge "is a major part of the economic and social infrastructure in the province" and also connects main travel routes between Mosul and Baghdad, he added.