By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 19, 2007 - A robust partnership between coalition troops and Iraqi security forces and support from the Iraqi people is showing success in bringing down violence in Iraq's Multinational Division North sector, the troop commander there said today. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, who also commands the Germany-based 1st Armored Division, told Pentagon reporters via videoconference that attacks in his area of operations are higher than anywhere else in Iraq.
However, Hertling noted "a marked reduction" in violence, particularly in improvised explosive device attacks. Enemy forces planted 1,830 IEDs in June, he said. By October, that number had dropped to about 900. As of today, the November number was 520.
Operation Iron Hammer, an ongoing counterinsurgency operation launched Nov. 5, is building on this success. To date, coalition and Iraqi forces detained 400 terror suspects and uncovered 79 weapons caches containing "an unbelievable amount of weapons and ammunition," Hertling said.
Among the weaponry was the largest cache of explosively formed projectiles yet to be discovered in Iraq. Hertling said there's no question these armor-piercing EFPs originated in Iran, but said he has no indication they arrived since Iran pledged to stop these shipments. "I am hopeful the Iranians are keeping their promise to not interfere with the international security conditions of Iraq by supplying either arms or equipment or trained personnel," he said.
Hertling said he's optimistic about the trends, but recognizes more attacks are likely. "You are still going to read about spectacular attacks," he said, particularly those targeting Iraqi security forces and concerned local citizens who have both become key partners in confronting the terrorist threat in the region.
Hertling noted steady increases in the capability of Iraqi security forces who have become solid partners in the counterinsurgency fight. During Iron Hammer, Hertling said, the Iraqis did more than he asked of them and performed at higher levels than he had expected.
"We've got a partner now," he said. "They are speaking the same language tactically and operationally that we are, and they are going after the same enemy we are."
Insurgents are noticing these improvements, too, and are likely to respond by singling out more Iraqi forces as targets, he said. "The enemy realizes that they're growing in capability, and if there is any kind of chance of stopping the representative movement of the government, that they have to attack the security forces," he said.
Similarly, Hertling said, the enemy recognizes the role local Iraqi citizens are playing in helping the coalition and Iraqi forces confront the terrorist threat in their neighborhoods. Nearly one-fourth of the weapons caches uncovered during Iron Hammer resulted from tips by local citizens.
"Iraqi citizens across the board are tired of seeing people use their country for a traumatic playground, and the Iraqi people have stepped up," Hertling said. "They are tired of the violence. They just want to go back to having their children go to school, farming their fields (and) running their businesses."