War on Terrorism

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On the Ground: U.S., Iraqi Forces Transform 'Ghost Town'

American Forces Press Service

Feb. 10, 2009 - Iraqi and U.S. forces are improving the quality of life in Iraq, in some cases, one village at a time. The combined forces focused recent efforts near Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad, where they transformed a former "ghost town" into a viable community and are preparing to renovate a structurally unsafe school without running water.

The village of Amugaten once was devoid of the bustling signs of life typical to a community. But there was a reason for the stillness; the village was plagued with explosive devices.

Tired of remaining in the shadows of impending threats, the villagers decided to take a stand. They requested help, and Iraqi and U.S. forces responded with a joint mission called Operation Automatic Pursuit II, aimed at ridding the town of several explosive devices placed within buildings, including a school.

"We're trying to clear out the [al-Qaida in Iraq] cells," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne La Clair of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment. "We hit another location during Operation Automatic Pursuit I, and we believe the insurgents who are left have moved into this town."

The forces cleared the entire village, moving from house to house to find villagers and move them to a safe location.

"We have several joint forces working together on this mission," La Clair said. "It is a pretty complicated mission because we have guys on the ground and guys in the air for support."

After detonating the explosives, members of a Navy explosive ordnance disposal unit checked each location to ensure the area was free of munitions.

"Until now, this village has been a very dangerous village," said Iraqi army Staff Col. Alaa. "As we went through here, the people asked us to stay and to provide security for their village."

To keep the villagers safe, Alaa said, the Iraqi army will construct a new headquarters there and set up various checkpoints leading up to the village.

"With [the Iraqi army] remaining in the area, there will be no more terrorism around," Alaa said.

Combined forces also are improving the quality of life for Iraqis in Quba village, where they are working to restore essential services.

The Quba Imam Boy's school is scheduled for renovation this month, including the addition of clean, running water and other structural upgrades, officials said.

"Right now, this school is in pretty bad shape," said Army Capt. Jeremiah Hurley, commander of Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment. "There's a lot of water damage, cracks in the ceilings and the walls, cracks in the roofs. So our first priority is to get these the cracks filled to prevent further water damage, repaint the school -- just general refurbishments so the kids can have somewhere to go to school."

Along with the school, Hurley said, a major water project is planned that will involve the installation of water pumps to pump water from the canal. "It's really the lasting project that will benefit the area long-term, because some of these towns do not have water," he said.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq news releases. Army Spc. Opal Vaughn of the 14th Public Affairs Detachment contributed to this article.)

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