By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 14, 2008 - Increased security brought about by military success against insurgents in the western portion of Iraq's Anbar province is enabling a drawdown of U.S. forces there as well as enhanced regional reconstruction efforts, a senior Marine commander told Pentagon reporters today. "The insurgents, by and large, have been marginalized in western Anbar," Marine Corps Col. Pat Malay, commander of Regimental Combat Team 5, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference from Camp Ripper, Iraq. Malay's area of operations comprises about 30,000 square miles, an area about the size of South Carolina.
During a previous Iraq tour in Fallujah two years ago, Malay recalled, multitudes of foreign fighters were entering western Iraq from Syria. Today, there are very few foreign fighters in his area of operations, he observed.
"Quite frankly, I think we've killed a lot of them, and I think that the enemy is having a more difficult time recruiting to the numbers that they have in the past," Malay said. In addition, foreign fighters no longer are transiting across the Syrian border into Anbar province, the colonel said.
With insurgents "on the run" in western Anbar province, the resultant reduced violence has enabled a drawdown of U.S. forces in his sector, Malay said. Three of his command's five battalions have rotated home over the past three months, he noted.
Meanwhile, the numbers of Iraqi security forces in western Anbar continue to grow, Malay said, noting his area of operations now has 5,000 police, 1,000 highway patrolmen and 7,000 Iraqi soldiers.
Iraqi soldiers and police are increasingly taking the lead in security operations, Malay said. Recent Iraqi-led operations have achieved successes against insurgents in Hit, Haditha and Qaim, he pointed out.
The drop in violence also has enabled a larger focus on reconstruction programs such as building needed schools and providing water and electricity needs for the local populace, the colonel added.
Citing recent humanitarian assistance efforts in Anbar province, Malay pointed to the story of Amenah, a 2-year-old Iraqi girl from Haditha who was flown to the United States in February for surgery on her ailing heart. Surgeons at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., were able to correct Amenah's congenital heart defect, Malay said. Today, Amenah is a healthy little girl, he noted, while the Haditha hospital is now receiving much-needed upgrades so it can attend to other sick children.
The American public should be very proud of U.S. servicemembers' efforts in Anbar province, Malay said.
"They're the next great generation, and they are winning here," Malay said of the Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers serving in Anbar. "It's mind-boggling; the changes that have taken place here."