By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 8, 2009 - Iraqi security forces are making tremendous progress throughout southern Iraq, the commander of coalition forces in the region said today. Army Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, who commands the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division as well as Multinational Division South in Iraq, said the Iraqi army, police and border police are performing very well.
"The Iraqi security forces have had tremendous success in establishing security throughout the nine provinces of southern Iraq," Nash said in a video conference with Pentagon reporters today. The spreading security is encouraging local Iraqis to side with the government and has resulted in significant captures of weapons and ammunition, he said.
An operation in Dhi Qar and Laysan provinces took plates used in making armor-piercing roadside bombs, magnetic "sticky" bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, hundreds of machine guns, assault rifles, and thousands of small-arms rounds out of the hands of extremists, the general said.
"Additionally, over a hundred rockets, artillery rounds and mortar shells were collected from cache sites between the arid dunes of northern Maysan and the marshes in the south of the province," Nash said. "The Iraqi army is cementing its reputation with the citizens of southern Iraq as a catalyst for peace and adding to their security."
Most of these caches were exposed by tips from the concerned Iraqis who refuse to let criminals and terrorists erode security and economic opportunity in their country, the general said.
The number of incidents in the region has dropped to about 1.3 per day over an area containing more than 10 million people, the general said. Roadside-bomb attacks have dropped, but indirect-fire attacks – rockets or mortars – have increased, he said.
"Our mission here in Iraq is to build civil capacity and train and support our Iraqi partners in their mission to provide security for the Iraqi people," Nash said.
The way forward includes continuing to work with the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army and the department of border enforcement, Nash said. He said the division has military training teams embedded with Iraqi formations, and that the United States provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets along with medical evacuation capabilities. The division also has the first "advise and assist brigade" – the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade. The brigade's approach is a new way of working with the Iraqis, and the Americans are writing a new training book as they work alongside their Iraqi counterparts, Nash said.
The U.S. military does not provide logistics support. The Iraqis provide their own food, fuel, maintenance and ground transportation in his region, he noted. "We have also developed a good network of intelligence, and we share that with our Iraqi partners on a continuous basis," Nash said. "They have full knowledge of how we bring that information together."
The Iraqis are in the lead, the general emphasized, with American partners. "They get warrants for their arrests; they go in front of a judge," he said. "And the rule of law is well in place and embedded. And they're really doing a great job, and I've seen just magnificent improvement since we've been here taking over this area in May."