These are the men and women that General Cardon talked about with me, and this story demonstrates the results of their hard work. Now they’re coming home. Well done!
The numbers only begin to tell the story: 5,943 houses cleared, 1,433 suspects detained, 1,241 small-arms fire engagements, 577 weapons caches found and 532 improvised explosive devices safely destroyed.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, is already busy with the task of preparing for the journey home. As the last of the â€œsurge brigades,â€ arriving in the south Baghdad area last June, 2nd BCT Soldiers had a difficult but important mission to fulfill. Now, as they prepare to hand the torch to those who will continue the mission, they can look back and see a place not only made safer, but ready to reap the benefits of security.
â€œWhen we entered [the area], our task was to go in and stay,â€ said 2nd BCT commander Col. Terry Ferrell. â€œWe were to go in and block accelerants from entering Baghdad, protect the population and defeat the sectarian violence that was going on in the area.â€
Setting the Scene
In the summer of 2007, the area south of Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River was considered one of the most dangerous places in all of Iraq. The majority-Sunni population had largely boycotted the 2005 elections, and soon began to feel the effects brought by lack of government representation. In addition to essential services such as clean water and electricity, citizens clearly needed security.
Al-Qaida in Iraq strictly and violently ruled the area and its citizens. To combat the militants, 2nd BCT used the combat power of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment; 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment; 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment; 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. There was also a fledgling Iraqi Army battalion supporting the area.
â€œWhen 2nd BCT first assumed control of the Spartan (2nd BCT) operating environment in June 2007, the brigade was faced with a unique and challenging situation,â€ said Capt. Lauren Glaze, 2nd BCT provost marshall. â€œThe only Iraqi security force present in the brigade OE was an undermanned and underequipped Iraqi army battalion, stretched thinly across a quarter of the area,â€
Al Qaeda in Iraq
Sectarian strife and rumors of ISF targeting and killing Sunnis led many to distrust the largely-Shia army and police, Glaze said.
â€œWhat developed was really a petri dish for al-Qaida to grow,â€ said Lt. Col. Kenneth Adgie, commander of 1-30th Inf. Regt., a mechanized infantry battalion.
AQI infiltrated the area, using homes and farms in the region as bases of operations and bomb-making factories. Attacks on coalition forces and ISF were on the rise. Citizens themselves felt the effects of terrorist activity.
â€œThey used ultra-violent means to inflict incredible pain on the Iraqi people here. They deprived people of resources to control their behavior,â€ Adgie said.
Coalition forces were attacked 95 times in the first two weeks, as they pushed into areas they had not been since 2003. After establishing Patrol Base Murray just 16 kilometers south of Baghdad, Soldiers of the 1-30th Inf. Regt. began moving south and east to secure the area along the banks of the Tigris River called Arab Jabour; because AQI had firmly established a presence there, it was not easy.
AQI Defense in Depth
â€œWhat we discovered was a well-built, elaborate, defensive belt,â€ said Ferrell, a native of Huntington W.Va.
Improvised explosive devices, many of them buried deep, made travel in the area difficult. A combination of air assaults and ground strikes enabled the Soldiers to capture and hold territory from al-Buaytha down the banks of the Tigris to Sayafiyah.
â€œFrom June 16 until the first of February of this year, we were in full-scale kinetic operations,â€ Ferrell said. â€œSimultaneously, we were doing humanitarian assistance and working to build local governance.â€
As coalition forces secured the area, citizens came to realize the benefits of working with them.
Sons of Iraq
One of the key elements to success in holding the newly-gained areas was the formation of the Sons of Iraq, a volunteer security force of Iraqi citizens initially formed to guard important infrastructure such as roads and power stations. Coalition forces trained and worked with the SoI to secure their neighborhoods and help oust AQI, Glaze said.
â€œThe training included classes on the SoI role in securing the community, basic first aid, basic self-defense tactics, the use of force and an overview of basic security principles,â€ Glaze said. â€œAs a result, the SoI received the information they needed to successfully assist in removing hundreds of al-Qaeda, caches and IEDs from the battlefield.â€
An important turning point came in November, Ferrell said.
â€œWe had a battle in Hawr Rajab in November, on Thanksgiving Day, when al-Qaida attacked to try and take back the city. We stood arm-in-arm; you had coalition, ISF, SoI. You had Sunnis and Shia banding together and you could not tell anyone apart,â€ he said. â€œFrom that day forward, Iâ€™ve always highlighted that one battle, when they were standing there as brothers to take care of one another.â€
Another key event was Operation Marne Thunderbolt, intended to deny al-Qaida safe havens in the area.
â€œJust as recently as January, we dropped over 40,000 pounds of ordnance as we fought down the southeast in our area of operations, finalizing one of the last major kinetic operations,â€ Ferrell said.
Sons of Iraq helped coalition forces identify safe houses, weapons caches and IEDs, which in some cases were eliminated with air strikes. Between January 10 and 20, more than 100,000 pounds of bombs were dropped in the Arab Jabour area by coalition aircraft.
Adgie, a native of National Park, N.J., marked Jan. 22 as the date when AQI left Arab Jabour. In the past four months, SoI membership in the Spartan AO has grown to 5,400, greater than the number of coalition forces and IA in the area combined. Their involvement, Adgie said, has kept AQI from returning.
The next step toward making security sustainable in the area was to increase the amount of ISF in the area, particularly the Iraqi police.
Iraqi Government Steps Up
â€œIn September 2007, the governor of Baghdad visited Arab Jabour and promised the local leadership and coalition forces that Arab Jabour would have an IP station by mid-2008,â€ said Glaze, from Woodbridge, Va.
â€œAfter his visit we noticed an obvious change in the localsâ€™ opinion of the ISF, specifically towards the IP. Over 300 SoI came forward and said they wanted to go through the IP recruiting process,â€ Glaze said.
The police station is currently under construction.
â€œThe ground has been broken and they are in the process of building the structure,â€ Ferrell said.
Ferrell credits the established security for the construction of the new IP station, as well as GoI and Iraqi leadership coming down to witness the security for themselves.
Even before IP forces could be established in the area, IA forces began to work alongside their coalition counterparts, living and conducting operations alongside them. Two IA battalions now conduct patrols with coalition forces and work with the SoI to maintain security.
â€œThere are more hard days along the way,â€ Ferrell said. â€œWe have to work to build the ISF, we have to continue to build confidence in the ISF, in the progress they are making.â€
Another key to continued peace, Ferrell said, is programs that encourage agriculture and industry, provide job training and bring local governments closer to the government in Baghdad.
â€œItâ€™s all about momentum,â€ Ferrell said. â€œThe security thatâ€™s been established is fragile. If you want to maintain it, youâ€™ve got to keep these other programs running. Thatâ€™s how weâ€™re going to maintain the success weâ€™ve established with the surge.â€
By Sgt. David Turner
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division