By Army Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 8, 2008 - Operation Summit Pursuit, spearheaded by soldiers of 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, brought hope to people in Hawijah and Sharqat, Iraq, and united Iraqi security forces, Sunni-Arab tribal and local government leaders, and members of the local "Sons of Iraq" citizen security group. "This cooperative effort, which began July 27, partially destroyed the remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq along the northern Tigris River Valley and brought a prolonged military presence to the people in those regions not seen in over three years," Army Lt. Col. Christopher Vanek, commander of 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, said at the conclusion of the operation Aug. 5.
Operation Summit Pursuit, a task force level operation under the larger Iron-Warrior Pursuit Operations, utilized conventional lethal methods coupled with non-lethal civil affairs tactics to concentrate on villages where Iraqi and coalition forces had conducted previous raids on known al-Qaida targets and to move further into territory susceptible to terrorist influence, Vanek said.
This operation focused on the district's northern most regions concentrating on the villages of Hegnah, Sabah, and Taq Taq, once safe havens for notorious al-Qaida in Iraq operatives as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Sheik Razzaq of Hegnah said.
"Since December we have had many changes here," the sheik said.
He was referring to the inception of Task Force Summit's reconciliation efforts and the establishment of the Sons of Iraq program in this region, about 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk. More recently Operation Muthana Strike lead to the deaths of three 1-87th Infantry soldiers during a fire fight with an al-Qaida cell in Hegnah.
"This is the first time that we have had Iraqi security forces and coalition forces in Hegnah. Because of their commitment to our people, we are able to live in peace and begin rebuilding our lives without fear," Razzaq said.
The sheik, whose influence covers Hegnah, Safinah, and Sadarah, also thanked the coalition forces for their assistance in bringing attention to much-needed projects for villages in the area.
"We will always be grateful for the sacrifices of Lieutenant Colonel Vanek's soldiers. They died so that we can live," he said.
Task Force Summit also is breaking new ground by attempting to establish government representation for the city of Taq Taq in the Sharqat district. The town is separated from the rest of Salahuddin province by the Tigris River. This presents an obstacle for representation at the district level, Vanek said.
"What remains clear is no budget has been established to assist this area with infrastructure needs, although the province and district have sizeable purses," he said.
Task Force Summit is coordinating efforts through the Salahuddin Provincial Reconstruction Team and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to achieve sub-district status and subsequent local representation at the district level. "We need to get some form of representative government established in Taq Taq, or we will continue to see that area of Salahuddin susceptible to [al-Qaida in Iraq] exploitation and usage as a safe haven," Vanek said.
A formal request to form a sub-district in this region is under way and will be filtered through the Salahuddin PRT and officially presented to the provincial government, he said.
"If we can at least get the process started for these people, that will be the single-most enduring accomplishment we will have fulfilled in this operation." Vanek said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson is assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.)