Iraqi and U.S. forces in Tal Afar have switched from combat operations to reconstruction and security operations. According to Major General Abdel Aziz Mohammed Jassem, the assault on Tal Afar resulted in 157 insurgents killed and 683 captured. Iraqi Security Forces suffered 12 killed and 27 wounded, astonishingly low numbers for urban combat. The town has been largely freed of insurgents, and the neighborhoods are classified as either safe or relatively safe, with none deemed dangerous.
The Coalition continues to deliver food and other aid to the city, including $10,000,000 in immediate reconstruction funds (click map for details, courtesy of MNF-Iraq). Police recruitment among the local population has already begun, and about three hundred Sunnis have volunteered for training.
Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, the Deputy Commander of Multinational Force-Northwest, notes that al Qaeda has been dealt a setback in the region; “We are probably at the point of impacting about 80 percent of that network in terms of detaining, capturing, killing the leadership and disrupting their resources and disrupting their support bases and neutralizing their capability to conduct operations against the Iraqi people and against Iraqi Security Forces and our own forces.” al Qaeda’s leadership in the north has been hit hard; “Since January, we have captured or killed 80 senior leaders — and by that, I’d say mid- to senior-level leaders — that we know were part of the al Qaeda network in northern Iraq.” These include senior commanders such as Abu Talha, Abu Fatima, Abu Shaded and Dara Mohammed (of al Qaeda linked Ansar al-Sunnah).
Gen. Bergner also highlights the cooperation from the local population by way of tips on insurgents, and participation in government. Attendance at government meetings open to the public have increased by over 15 times. Over 100,000 new voters registered in the region, almost doubling the voter registration from the January election. Given that al Qaeda has threatened to kill all who remotely cooperate with the government, this tells much about al Qaeda’s reach and popularity in the north.
Gen. Bergner also discussed the state of the Iraqi Security Forces; “In terms of Iraqi security force effectiveness, many are capable of limited independent operations at the small unit level right now. Police are shooting back when they get shot at. They’re standing their ground more and more. They are offensively oriented. And they are increasingly able to develop their own intelligence and then conduct operations based on that intelligence.” The Iraqi 3rd Division is stationed in Tal Afar, and Gen. Bergner refutes the characterization the units are made up of Kurdish Peshmerga; “it’s largely made up of the 3rd Iraqi Army Division, which is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious force that was nationally recruited.”
The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Finer reports on the progress of the Iraqi Army and its actions in Tal Afar. There is much work to be done in the areas of logistics and junior leadership, but the soldiers’ willingness to fight cannot be denied. The Iraqi Army is slowing becoming a proficient fighting force, and its low casualties in Tal Afar demonstrate this. Pvt. Tarek Hazem, bloodstained after assisting his wounded brothers, summed up the spirit of the soldiers fighting in Tal Afar; “We were not afraid. We are here to protect our country All we feel is motivated to kill terrorists.”
The Iraqi Security Forces are the linchpin to the success of the Anbar Campaign. The U.S. can provide the needed armor, artillery, air support, logistics and experience, but in the end the Iraqi infantry and police must provide for the security in the region.
Zarqawi admitted his greatest threat will be the establishment of Iraqi Security Forces, as it will pit him against the Iraqi people, not the Americans. His efforts to attack police and Army units are designed to discourage enlistment in the security forces. But Zarqawi is failing in deterring Iraqis from joining, and now al Qaeda is increasingly being boxed in to the heart of the Anbar province. And the Iraqi Security Forces, when ready and with the help of the U.S. military, will hunt him there.