WASHINGTON, May 30, 2007 – The fifth and final brigade of the troop surge has arrived in Baghdad and should be fully operational by mid-July, the deputy director for operations on the Joint Staff said here today.
“We are starting to see a shift in momentum that comes with having additional forces on the ground,” Army Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins told Pentagon reporters in a news conference.
Troops will clamp down on Baghdad’s northern and southern belts — areas where insurgents “have had the opportunity to sit back and plan some of these attacks,” Wiggins said.
“What we’re trying to do through the ‘clear, hold and retain’ (strategy) is take those particular areas away from the insurgents and al Qaeda, make it more difficult for them to travel, at least freely,” he said. “So some of those forces will stretch in Baghdad.”
Wiggins noted that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commanding general of Multinational Force Iraq, is slated to update military and civilian leaders on the Baghdad security plan’s progress in September.
In addition to deploying five U.S. brigades to Baghdad, the security plan that President Bush announced Feb. 13 has split the Iraqi capital into 10 districts where Iraqi army, police and coalition forces live together in joint security stations to be closer to the Iraqi people they are protecting.
U.S. ground forces’ increased presence has “garnered greater support and situational awareness” throughout the country, Wiggins said, citing an increased number of tips that Iraqi citizens are providing to coalition forces.
“We’re experiencing increased levels of support from local Iraqis throughout the other areas of Iraq,” he said, citing the 41 kidnapping victims freed from an al Qaeda hideout by coalition forces May 27 near Baqubah.
“What’s important about this is this rescue was made possible by the tip that was provided by an Iraqi citizen,” he said. “And we’re continuing to receive actionable tips from Iraqi citizens.”
In Iraq’s Anbar province, where violence levels “continue to drop significantly,” an additional Marine unit has arrived and should be operational next month, Wiggins said.
“The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is arrived in theater; they are offloading personnel and equipment,” he said. “We expect them to move north into the Anbar province and expect them to be operational on or about the middle of next month, as well.”
Recruiting rates for Iraqi security forces in Anbar province are increasing. “The (number of) Iraqi army soldiers — as far as recruitment and volunteers — is increasing, and we expect to have 500 Iraqi army soldiers graduating from the basic training facility in Habbaniyah,” he said.
The current graduating security force class will be assigned to the 7th Iraqi Army Division in Anbar province, Wiggins said, and the next graduating class will be expanded to 1,000 members. “That’s based on the volunteer rates increasing in the Anbar province, which is positive news,” he added.
Speaking about enemy tactics, Wiggins said al Qaeda operatives continue to use suicide vests and car bombs as their weapons of choice in high-profile attacks.
“These particular indiscriminate killers, as well as mass casualties-producing weapons, are seen as success through the eyes of al Qaeda,” he said. “We have found more and more that, although they’re unable to reach their primary targets, they will pick secondary targets, such as funeral processions, markets and mosques, as their targets to create the mass casualties.”