By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
June 19, 2008 - The last of the five Army brigades to deploy with the "troop surge" in Iraq will return in July after a 13-month deployment, during which soldiers detained more than 800 terrorist suspects and helped foster Iraqi self-governance. The 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team has operated in the Arab Jabour area of southeastern Baghdad, where the number of attacks plummeted from about 30 a week when they arrived in May 2007 to about one a week now.
"All in all, it's been a very successful operation for us," Army Col. Terry Ferrell, 2nd Brigade Combat Team commander, told reporters at the Pentagon today via video teleconference from Forward Operating Base Kalsu, in Baghdad.
President Bush announced the temporary 33,000-troop surge in January 2007 to tamp down violence in Iraq and help prepare Iraq's national security forces to maintain security. The first surge brigade went home in March, and the final redeployment next month will reduce the number of brigades in Iraq to 15.
During their tour, 2nd Brigade soldiers' main duties have included blocking weapons from entering the Iraqi capital, protecting the local population and quashing sectarian violence. The soldiers also have focused on making Iraqi security forces more capable, fostering the local governance and economy, and setting up Iraqis for long-term self-reliance.
The primary enemies, Ferrell said, have been al-Qaida and Sunni extremists who had created a sanctuary in Arab Jabour, where terrorists controlled the population through fear and intimidation. Insurgents used homes, farms and commercial properties as bases of operation and bomb-making factories, devastating the region's economy.
Without a sustained security presence in the area, local residents often were bereft of basic necessities such as clean water, electricity, health care and education, the colonel added.
But over the course of the year, 2nd Brigade helped establish 11 patrol bases in Arab Jabour. The centers are manned by coalition and Iraqi security forces who work and live together and coordinate efforts of some 5,000 citizen security group members known as "Sons of Iraq."
Coalition and Iraqi security forces, along with the Sons of Iraq, achieved significant gains through three division-focused operations: Marne Torch I, Marne Torch II and Marne Thunderbolt.
"The combined efforts of these operations resulted in over 800 suspects detained, over 600 weapons caches found and over 500 [homemade bombs] safely destroyed, and nearly 6,000-plus houses cleared so that we could continue to move through the area of operations, providing for a safe, secure environment," Ferrell said.
The colonel added that, in addition to these operations, an increased Iraqi army role in the area allowed local citizens to enlarge their presence.
"Over this past year, we've helped create city councils in each of our population areas," he said. "Neighborhood councils now give our communities a direct voice to the government."
Moreover, in the wake of security gains, the local agriculture and economy have flourished. In addition, private clinics continue to open, electricity and water are flowing easily into the area, and the community has established 25 new or refurbished schools.
"As we prepare to redeploy as the last of the five surge brigades," Ferrell said, "it's clear that the government of Iraq has begun to shoulder a larger responsibility for the citizens in the area that we have operated.
"Furthermore, the capacity and capabilities of the Iraqi army has improved tremendously throughout our time here and the operations we have conducted jointly throughout the operation," he added. "All these vehicles of change combined to generate momentum towards prosperity, security and self-reliance."