By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 23, 2008 - The U.S. troop surge and the contributions of improved Iraqi security forces and concerned local citizens' groups have combined to tip the scales against al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents, a senior U.S. military officer said today. The two-week-old Operation Phantom Phoenix that is pressuring insurgents across Iraq is building on successful surge-enabled offensives conducted in spring through the fall of 2007 in Anbar province and Baghdad, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for Multinational Corps Iraq, told reporters during a conference call.
"The surge forces were critical," Anderson said, noting the additional 30,000 U.S. troops provided commanders "the ability to hold ground."
As the surge took hold, al Qaeda in Iraq operatives and other terrorists fled Baghdad into the Diyala River Valley and other areas north of the Iraqi capital city, Anderson explained. This exodus is borne out by the fact that about 60 percent of terrorist attacks in Iraq now occur in the northern part of the country, he noted.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces and concerned local citizens' groups, now totaling about 80,000 people across Iraq, are keeping the pressure on insurgents, the general said.
"We will pursue al Qaeda and other extremists wherever they attempt to take sanctuary," Anderson said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces are being positioned to areas "where they are the most needed," he added.
"We will not give up" any ground taken from the insurgents, Anderson vowed.
Iraqi soldiers and police "have matured and developed," Anderson pointed out. The Iraqis, like their American counterparts, also are holding onto ground they've seized from the insurgents. The Iraqis' performance, the general said, "is allowing us to do Phantom Phoenix."
The success of concerned local citizens' groups "has enabled us to find numerous extremists, criminals, weapons and munitions caches," Anderson said.
The increased use of unmanned and manned aerial reconnaissance platforms has negatively impacted insurgents' attempts to launch mortar attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces or emplace roadside bombs, Anderson pointed out.
Consequently, the enemy "is much more aware that they don't have freedom of maneuver to go out and do all of that stuff," the general said.
Other operations being conducted across Iraq include forming an Iraqi civil-service corps and providing micro-grants to stimulate new businesses, Anderson said.
Phantom Phoenix is successfully taking the fight to the enemy, Anderson said, noting the broad scope and multifaceted power of the offensive is keeping the terrorists off balance and on the defensive.
"The focus of the offensive appears (to be going in) the right direction," the general said.