By Seaman William Selby, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 27, 2008 - Coalition and Iraqi forces are making progress in Iraq's Diyala province through three lines of operation, a military official there said yesterday. Significant enemy activities in Diyala over the past eight months have dropped by 70 percent, Army Col. Jon Lehr, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, said in a teleconference with online journalists and "bloggers."
Lehr said the Iraqi army has made vast improvements and is capable of conducting unilateral operations with some assistance from coalition forces in terms of artillery, attack aviation and close-air support.
Progress for the Iraqi police has been a bit more challenging, Lehr acknowledged.
"We do not have the numbers that are required across the province, and there's a problem with the training level or, as we like to refer to it, the 'professionalization' of the force," he explained. "We're working through that right now."
The improvement of the Iraqi security forces and the presence of coalition forces have made it increasingly difficult for al Qaeda to stage attacks in Diyala, Lehr said. And insurgents seem to be relying less on improvised explosive devices in their efforts to thwart progress and grab headlines, he added. "From the enemy perspective, I would say the current weapon of choice is starting to shift a little bit from the IED to the suicide vest," Lehr said.
Though al Qaeda is still using IEDs, Lehr said, Iraqi and coalition forces have become proficient at finding and clearing the explosives. "It is mitigating the risk that was once associated with the (IED," he said.
Coalition and Iraqi forces have had a profound effect on the enemy in the province, the colonel said.
"I believe al Qaeda in Diyala province is on the ropes," Lehr said. "They're very scared right now and confused on what's going on with the combination of Iraqi security force operations, coalition force presence, and the awakening that's taking place across the Diyala province."
Before entering Diyala, Lehr said, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team conducted operations in Salahuddin and Baghdad provinces, where the soldiers used the same system they are using in Diyala. Lehr said the approach focuses on three tenets: eroding the enemy's resources, disintegrating enemy capability, and separating the enemy's leadership from insurgents and insurgents from their support base.
In addition to the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, Lehr addressed the support from citizens assisting in the security effort.
"The Sons of Iraq, or concerned local citizens, are not a permanent security solution; however, they have been an integral part of our strategy," Lehr said.
"We're running al Qaeda off," Lehr continued. "I'm not saying they're gone, but we've got them on the ropes."
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)