By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 9, 2008 - A military spokesman in Iraq today praised soldiers of an Army brigade that will soon redeploy to the U.S. and mark the first reduction in the number of surge forces sent to stabilize Iraq last year. Multinational Force Iraq officials announced March 6 that some 2,000 paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, will return to Fort Bragg, N.C., in the next several weeks, reducing the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 19 to 18.
"On behalf of the men and women of (Multinational Force Iraq), I want to thank the 2nd Brigade for their service in Iraq, and for the sacrifices they made for the freedom we and all Iraqis hold so dear," said Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, director of Multinational Force Iraq's Communication Division.
President Bush announced the temporary 33,000-troop surge last January to tamp down violence in Iraq and help prepare Iraq's national security forces to maintain security. By July, three additional brigades in Iraq as part of the surge are scheduled to redeploy.
During a news conference today in Baghdad, Smith told reporters that Iraqi security forces and citizens capitalized on efforts the 2nd Brigade paratroopers made over their 15-month deployment. In that time, he said, 125,000 Iraqis joined military or police ranks, and some 90,000 citizens enrolled in volunteer groups.
"Not only is the Iraqi security force becoming more capable -- as shown by the increasing quality and quantity of the operations it is conducting -- but more and more citizens' volunteer groups are working ever closer with their security forces and the coalition to deny terrorists safe havens and weapons," he said.
The 2nd Brigade paratroopers, known as "Falcon Soldiers," established two of the first combat outposts in Baghdad, said Army Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad. As a result, attacks in Adhamiyah, a northeast suburb of the Iraqi capital, decreased from 465 to 15 per month since December 2006.
"Falcon Soldiers spent $30 million on reconstruction projects including renovation of schools, generators, water pump repair, trash pickup and micro-loans, revitalizing markets (and) making life better and safer for the residents of northeast Baghdad," Hammond is quoted as saying in a March 6 Multinational Force Iraq news release.
Army Col. Billy J. Buckner, a Multinational Corps Iraq spokesman, said the redeployment of the U.S. brigade represents an increased capability of Iraqi security forces to provide their nation's security.
"It also continues the effort to reduce the number of brigade combat teams from 20 to 15 that had previously been outlined by the commander of Multinational Force Iraq," he said, according to the release.
The troop surge continues to be lauded as a successful U.S. strategic shift that helped tamp down sectarian clashes and other violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
During a teleconference with online journalists and "bloggers," Army Col. Tom James, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, attributed Iraq's improved security situation to the surge deployment.
"The five-brigade surge gave coalition forces the resources required to concentrate combat power in extremist-dominated areas," he said last week. "And (it) allowed us to occupy key terrain in these areas to avoid enemy reoccupation."