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Fred W. Baker III - American Forces Press Service
Forces in Iraq have ramped up efforts this week to stamp out remaining al Qaeda hot spots there, pummeling areas with air strikes and bombs and surging troops in previously uncontrolled territories.
Coalition forces attacked suspected hideouts in the north, including in Diyala province, and air strikes yesterday concentrated on the southern outskirts of Baghdad in the Arab Jabour region.
“We are not leaving holes or safe havens for the enemy,” Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for Multinational Corps Iraq, said in a conference call with military analysts.
So far, military officials reported, forces have captured or killed more than 30 insurgents and uncovered numerous weapons caches. The bombings yesterday targeted deeply buried bombs, Anderson said.
Anderson said the assault, dubbed Operation Phantom Phoenix, targets areas where al Qaeda operatives fled after being forced out of the more secure regions in the country. Some have migrated to regroup in areas that have few or no coalition forces, he said.
The general said that, as the local citizens feel more secure, more tips are coming in pointing out where to find insurgents and their weapons. Some weapons found include Iranian markings, Anderson said, but there are fewer of those than before. Most of the finds uncover weapons of all types. So far, troops have uncovered car bombs, house bombs and suicide vests, among other weapons and munitions.
“You do find everything from old stuff to new stuff,” Anderson said. “There are data plates, markings, writing, that links it to Iran very clearly. The further north you go, the less Iranian-linked it is. The further south you go, the more Iranian-linked it is.”
Anderson also said coalition forces are finding fewer foreign fighters in the al Qaeda ranks. The group is recruiting more locally, he said.
Concerned local citizens helping with security and local police are key to the operation’s success, he said. By April, officials expect to reach their cap of 105,000 people in concerned local citizens programs. Of those, one-quarter will make their way into the permanent Iraqi security force system, Anderson said. The others could transfer into civilian work corps programs in the provinces.
If local police and concerned citizens can take care of daily security in towns and cities, then the Iraqi army can concentrate its efforts in the space between cities and on border security, he said.
Plans to build more combat outposts and joint security stations in Diyala will give forces a permanent presence and allow for more flexible operations, Anderson said.