Al Qaeda in Iraq's shrinking area of operations
Nearly one year to the day of the announcement of the "surge" of US forces to Iraq and the change in counterinsurgency plan, Iraqi and Coalition forces have shrunk al Qaeda's ability to conduct operations inside Iraq, a senior US commander said.
During a press briefing in Baghdad, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the Commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said al Qaeda in Iraq has been ejected from its strongholds in the cities to the rural regions of Iraq.
Al Qaeda in Iraq's area of operations as of December 2006. Dark red indicates operating areas, light red is transit routes. Click to view.
From late 2006 into 2007, "Iraq was caught in a cycle of bloodshed under the dark cloud of al Qaeda," said Odierno. Al Qaeda was "entrenched in numerous urban safe havens across Iraq" until the surge forces launched Operation Phantom Thunder in June 2007.
Al Qaeda in Iraq's network has been significantly degraded, but is still a threat. Al Qaeda remains active in regions near Miqdadiyah, Mosul, Hawijah, Samarra, and southeast of Baghdad in the Arab Jabour region. "Although the group remains a dangerous threat, its capabilities have been diminished," said Odierno. "Al Qaeda has been pushed out of urban centers like Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Baqubah, and forced into isolated rural areas. Many of their top leaders have been eliminated, and finding qualified replacements is increasingly difficult for them." Multinational Forces Iraq also estimates it has significantly degraded al Qaeda's ability to fund operations by dismantling its financier networks and leaders.
Operation Phantom Phoenix, the current nationwide operation targeting al Qaeda's remaining safe havens, was launched on Jan. 8. Iraqi and US forces have captured or killed 121 al Qaeda fighters, wounded 14, and detained an additional 1023 suspects. Al Qaeda's leadership has been hit hard during the operation, with 92 high values targets either killed or captured.
Iraqi and US forces have also discovered 351 weapons caches and four tunnel complexes, Odierno said. Iraqi and US forces have also discovered three car bomb and improvised explosive device [IED] factories and 410 IEDs, including 18 car bombs and 25 homes rigged with explosives. Also found were "numerous torture chambers, an underground medical clinic, several closed schools, and a large foreign fighter camp with intricate tunnel complexes," said Odierno.
The reduction of ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad from December 2006 to December 2007. Ethno-sectarian violence is down 90 percent Baghdad from December 2006 to December 2007. Click to view.
Iraqi security forces have conducted independent operations and deployments during Phantom Phoenix. An entire brigade was moved from Anbar province to Diyala, where a major fight against al Qaeda in Iraq is under way.
"With less than a week's notice the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Iraqi Army Division was alerted to deploy from Anbar province to Diyala province to support combat operations in the Diyala River Valley," said Odierno." This was a good Iraqi decision and was executed solely by the Iraqis. Within 36 hours upon arrival, the 3rd Brigade uncovered two sizeable caches, gathered significant intelligence and aggressively hunted down al Qaeda in tough terrain and demanding climatic conditions." As recently as the spring of 2007 Anbar was the most violent province in Iraq.
Al Qaeda in Iraq's area of operations from December 2006 to December 2007. Animation courtesy of Rusty Shackleford at The Jawa Report.
The reduction of violence in Baghdad from December 2006 to December 2007. Animation courtesy of Rusty Shackleford at The Jawa Report.