By Seaman William Selby, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 4, 2008 - Coalition forces are targeting a foreign-terrorist-facilitator network in Mosul, Iraq, a senior military official said yesterday. "Mosul is the strategic center of gravity for al Qaeda," Air Force Col. Donald Bacon, chief of special operations and intelligence information for Multinational Force Iraq, said during a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers."
Bacon said Mosul is an important target because it is a financial junction and hub for foreign terrorists. "Our assessment is that (al Qaeda) can't survive without the networks in Mosul," he said.
Ninevah province, where Mosul is located, is the only Iraqi province in which the violence level has not significantly decreased in recent months, Bacon said. "On any given day, about half to two-thirds of the attacks in Iraq are in and around Mosul," he explained.
Since intensifying operations in Ninevah in January, coalition forces have captured or killed 142 terrorists in Mosul itself, he said, including al Qaeda military leaders.
"On 18 February, we were able to capture the al Qaeda military leader of Mosul," Bacon said. "He oversaw all of al Qaeda's operations in Mosul."
He said the captured leader's name has not been released, but intelligence gathered from this prisoner enabled coalition forces to successfully target and kill Jar Allah, also known as Abu Yasir al-Saudi, a native of Saudi Arabia who led the al Qaeda network in southeastern Mosul.
Allah and another Saudi national named Hamdan were killed by coalition forces Feb. 27 when a precision helicopter strike destroyed their vehicle in a low-risk area, Bacon said.
"We also assessed and analyzed that (Jar Allah) had the most aggressive and most active of the networks in Mosul," Bacon said. "In fact, we found that he was responsible for the roadside-bomb attack that killed coalition force soldiers on the 28th of January."
Bacon also reported that the number of insurgent attacks has significantly decreased in 17 of the 18 Iraqi provinces since June, with Ninevah being the exception.
Bacon attributed the decrease in violence in much part to security efforts by concerned local citizens groups, otherwise known as "Sons of Iraq." "(The Sons of Iraq) find most of our weapons caches," he said, "so they're getting tons of weapons that otherwise al Qaeda would have access to."
The Sons of Iraq also make it difficult for al Qaeda to get back into villages the coalition has cleared, Bacon added.
Bacon acknowledged there has been some tension with the Sons of Iraq, citing an incident in Diyala province where concerned citizens walked off the job in protest of an Iraqi police leader in the area. The issue was resolved peacefully, he said, and the protestors have all returned to the job in the past week.
Bacon noted that the concerned citizens were able to voice their concern to Iraqi leadership. "Living in a democracy, they should be able to do that," he said.
Despite recent trends showing lower violence levels throughout most of Iraq, Bacon said, al Qaeda is still a significant threat. "It's going to be a continuous fight, where we just keep chipping away at them," he said. "We're going to continue putting bases in the neighborhoods and continue to try to root out the (al Qaeda) leadership as we find it," Bacon said, "and go after the (al Qaeda) networks, as well as the foreign terrorist networks."
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)