By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 26, 2007 - The Iraqi people increasingly are siding with the coalition against extremists in their country, a unit commander there said. Army Col. Daniel Ball, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, is on his third rotation to Iraq and said he is seeing increased trust among the Iraqis.
"They're starting to realize that we're here to make their life better, and because of that they're starting to take our side," he said in a teleconference with online journalists and "bloggers" Dec. 20.
Ball believes the shift is due, at least in part, to the recent U.S. troop surge. The surge forces provide the capability "to not only defeat the enemy, but (also) then to stay in the neighborhoods and help," he said.
The lines of operation for coalition forces remaining in neighborhoods are focused on creating a more secure environment for the local population, he said. He cited examples including helping them establish governance, starting their economy, building and cleaning, restoring their irrigation system and opening their shops.
"They're starting to know us. They're starting to be comfortable with us," Ball said.
As a result, he said, the Iraqi people are coming forward to the coalition forces more with information about the enemy. And it starts a mutually beneficial cycle, he added, because the information helps the coalition target and eliminate the enemy, which makes it safer for the people.
"You have a phenomenon over here right now called 'concerned local citizens' where these guys – almost like our neighborhood watches back home in the United States – they are manning checkpoints, if you will, at the crossroads in their cities, making sure their streets are safe at night and during the day," Ball said. "So, they've really taken our side against al Qaeda over here. And I think it's something we can be proud of as an Army, and we can be proud of as a nation."
In terms of combat, in which Ball's aviation brigade is most heavily involved, the threat has not changed much since his last tour, he said. The threat comes from both Sunni and Shiia religious extremists and a large number of criminal elements, he explained.
The enemy's unpredictable nature has forced the combat aviation brigade to adjust – though not drastically, the colonel said – their operations since arriving in Iraq for this tour in May. "It's a thinking enemy, and they adapt quite well to what we're doing on a daily basis," he said.
Ball said the brigade has been fully combat operational throughout its southern Baghdad territory since June 13. "We have killed over 265 of the enemy, which equates to about 70 percent of the enemy killed in action for the 3rd Infantry Division since we've been here," he said.
In addition to launching assaults on the enemy, the aviation brigade provides transportation and logistics services to U.S. forces. "We've moved almost 80,000 personnel across the battlefield with our Chinook and UH-60 helicopters and moved over 12 million pounds of cargo," Ball said.
Moving troops and cargo by air helps to minimize the threat posed by improvised explosive devices, Ball said.
"What's significant about those numbers is, as you well know, one of the major threats in theater is the IED threat. And if I can move 77,000 soldiers and almost 12 million pounds of cargo, I'm keeping vehicles and soldiers off the road, which is inherently making it more safe for our soldiers," he explained.
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)