By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 6, 2008 - U.S. troops have killed or detained some 35 suspected terrorists in an ongoing operation launched last month to pursue insurgents southeast of Baghdad, a military official said. Operation Marne Grand Slam also has produced civic results in Salman Pak, about 15 miles south of the Iraqi capital, where efforts to bolster the local government and economy are seeing success.
"The big effect, from a brigade commander standpoint, was to strengthen the governance line of operation with the strengthening of the economics line of the operation," Army Col. Wayne Grigsby said during a conference call today.
Grigsby and his 3,500 soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade are carrying out the hybrid military and counterinsurgency operation that launched Feb. 15. Troops will soon be reinforced by an Iraqi army brigade.
The colonel said the number of enemies slain and captured was relatively low because Sunni extremists either turned themselves over to coalition forces or fled before troops targeted al Qaeda in Iraq operatives, safe houses, weapon caches and firing points.
With the conclusion of Marne Grand Slam's initial phase, soldiers began moving into Combat Outpost Carver. The outpost is located southeast of Salman Pak, an area that was a former stronghold of the Iraqi Republican Guard, where troops can monitor Tigris River traffic and impede insurgent movement.
Grigsby said Iraqis have handed over 15 weapons caches to forces at the outpost, the first coalition position in the area for months. The caches contained a range of weapons, from hand and rocket-propelled grenades to improvised explosive devices, the deadly roadside bombs responsible for the most U.S. deaths and injuries in Iraq.
Coalition forces also helped establish the government center in Salman Pak, where the governor is able to work at a central location for the first time in three years, Grigsby said. "That is a big piece that puts pressure on the extremists, because now they have a government ... that (Iraqis) will listen to instead of the extremists," he said.
U.S. and Iraqi security forces are building a bridge across the Tigris that will connect two Iraqi towns. "This is what the people want. They wanted that bridge, ... and that will be a big win," the colonel said.
Combined forces oversee Operation Market Garden -- under the Grand Slam umbrella of operations -- which has flooded Salman Pak with hundreds of thousands of dollars from "microgrants" to rebuild the city's local market. They also created a local radio station to communicate with the populace.
"It's not just killing or capturing extremists," Grigsby said, "but also folks in all lines of operations that is really the strength of Marne Grand Slam."