By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 15, 2007 - Surge-supplied U.S. and Iraqi security forces have contributed to a marked decrease of insurgent-committed violence in eastern Baghdad, a senior U.S. military officer said here today. "We have been effective, and we have seen violence significantly reduced as Iraqi security forces have taken a larger role in all aspects of operations," Army Col. Jeffrey Bannister, commander of 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, told Pentagon reporters from Camp Liberty in Baghdad during a satellite-carried news conference.
In addition, Bannister said, he has observed increasing harmony among Sunni and Shiite residents in his sector.
During surge of forces operations that began in January, U.S. and Iraqi troops ramped up counterinsurgency efforts in and around Baghdad as part of a strategy that embedded units into local neighborhoods, Bannister explained.
The surge quickly accelerated improvement of the security situation across eastern Baghdad, said Bannister, whose area of operations includes nearly 2 million Iraqis, mostly Shiite, living in a dense urban area the size of Phoenix.
Bannister said his brigade partners with more than 12,000 Iraqi soldiers and police posted across three of Baghdad's 10 security districts. Bannister's troops, coalition forces and Iraqi soldiers and police are providing "a dominant security presence in the neighborhoods protecting the local population," he said.
More than 92 percent of the neighborhoods under his watch are now considered to be under control of U.S. and Iraqi security forces, Bannister reported. Since January, there has been a 69 percent decrease in enemy attacks within his sector, he added.
The colonel also reported that sectarian violence is markedly down since a ceasefire agreement was made with Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in August. Although some Sadr adherents appear to be disregarding the ceasefire, the majority of Sadr's followers "are following his pledge of honor," Bannister said.
Yet, progress that has been achieved in reducing violence in his area hasn't been easy, the colonel said. "We've had some tough days battling insurgents and criminal militias," he acknowledged. "Our persistence has paid off, and we're seeing an increase, not only in security, but (also) from Iraqi-citizen tips."
Iraqi citizens want to rid their neighborhoods of insurgents and other criminals, and they are uncovering many enemy weapons caches, Bannister noted.
Improvised-explosive-device attacks in his sector have gone down from a high of about 100 in January to about 20 in October, the colonel said. The decrease in attacks is due to several factors, Bannister said, including the successful execution of counterinsurgency strategy, a lull in violence during the September-October Ramadan holiday period, and the ceasefire agreement with Sadr.
"I will tell you the greatest accelerant for this decrease has been the (counterinsurgency) strategy, combined with enough security forces to get the job done," Bannister said. "Our dominate presence inside the neighborhoods has resulted in a much higher level of access to the population, and therefore, to intelligence."
These efforts have led to more cache discoveries and reduced space for the insurgents to rest and regroup, Bannister pointed out.
In addition, the people of eastern Baghdad have simply grown tired of insurgent- and criminal militia-committed violence, the colonel said.
Iraqis "are reconciling themselves to put an end to the senseless violence and lawlessness," he said.