By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 27, 2008 - Iraq's Diyala province is now secure and stable enough for people to return to work and for the government and civil services to conduct business, an official there told online journalists and bloggers in a teleconference May 23. "Operations in concert with the Iraqi security forces have made the province a safer and more stable area, providing a place for the government and civil services to conduct business and for the Iraqi people to live and work," said Army Col. Jon Lehr, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which has occupied Diyala province for the past 14 months.
"Overall, Diyala has seen a 70 percent reduction in violence over the past year," Lehr said.
The dramatic reduction in violence was achieved through 10 large-scale offensive operations targeting insurgent leadership and infrastructure in the province, Lehr said. He added that Iraqi security forces were involved in all the operations alongside coalition forces.
Through these operations, 220 "high-value individuals" were removed from Diyala's population, Lehr said. In addition, he said, more than 1,700 insurgents were detained, and another 500-plus insurgents were killed.
He said coalition and Iraqi forces also destroyed enemy safe havens and hindered their logistical means while conducting operations in Diyala. More than 550 weapons caches were discovered and confiscated, 25,000 miles of roadways were cleared, and more than 2,100 roadside bombs were found and destroyed, he said.
To maintain the security created by coalition and Iraqi security forces, Lehr said, a concerned-citizens program, known as "Sons of Iraq," has been established in Diyala province. "The premise of the program is to contract local Iraqi males to provide security for their villages and neighborhoods as augmentation to security forces," he explained.
Lehr said the Sons of Iraq have a "three-fold" effect in the province. First, he said, they drive al-Qaida from their sanctuaries. Secondly, he said, they free up combat power from the security forces. And the short-term employment of the Sons of Iraq has helped "jump start" local economies, he said.
"Overall, the Sons of Iraq played an integral role in the improved security situation in Baghdad and Diyala province and increased the economic activities," Lehr said.
He said the Iraqi police also are gaining strength and efficiency.
"We have partnered with, trained and supported 17,300 Iraqi police in Diyala province," Lehr said. "That's 64 stations and 12 separate district headquarters."
A police academy set up by 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team recently graduated its first class, Lehr said. The academy -- now under the Iraqi Interior Ministry -- will continue to generate trained police forces for the province, he said, graduating about 500 new police officers a month.
"They are working hard to create a better force," Lehr said, "a force that is nonsectarian, noncorrupt."
Lehr also said 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which is preparing to redeploy to the United States, is in a support role now, with the Iraqi army leading operations.
"Our redeployment from Iraq is part of a planned surge strategy in the campaign plan that maps out eventual conduct of independent Iraqi security force operations," Lehr explained.
"The 5th Iraqi Army Division is capable of conducting unilateral operations with little assistance," he said. "Due to their success, we have moved into a tactical over-watch mode of operation, where we follow the Iraqi army and support as needed."
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of the Defense Media Activity.)