The general said the security improvements are due in large part to growth in the size and capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, the gains in capabilities fueled by coalition forces working in partnership with their Iraqi counterparts. The coalition and Iraqi surge has been effective, as Iraqi security forces have grown from some 400,000 to more than 560,000 members, and coalition forces deployed five brigades to improve population security and conduct offensive operations, Bergner said.
Though al-Qaida in Iraq has been handled severely in the past year, no one is declaring victory, Bergner said. “It’s important to note that even with the progress being made against al-Qaida, they remain capable of high-profile attacks, and they continue to resort to barbaric tactics to inflict violence on the Iraqi people,” the general told reporters.
Iraqi and coalition operations continue to target al-Qaida in Iraq’s operational, financial and propaganda networks, and this also contributes to security success, he noted.
Recent operations have killed or captured 12 al-Qaida leaders, Bergner said, including leaders in Salahuddin province, in the city of Beiji and in the northern city of Mosul. The Iraqi and coalition allies also have crippled the financial networks in these areas and destroyed the propaganda cells in Baghdad, the general added.
In the south, Iraqi soldiers and police are clearing criminal activity — illegal militias and criminal gangs — and finding and destroying weapons caches. Bergner said the Iraqi security forces in and around Amarah have found 600 rockets, 3,000 mortar rounds, 270 roadside bombs, 250 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 1,000 mines.
The last of the five U.S. brigades deployed for the surge in operations — the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team — will return to Fort Stewart, Ga., by the end of this month. This is in addition to two Marines battalions and a Marine expeditionary unit that already have returned to their home bases.
The security progress made possible by the sacrifices of soldiers and Marines has had a carryover effect into other crucial areas, Bergner said. Yesterday, Iraqi officials laid the cornerstone for the Baghdad airport road revitalization project, he said. The $50 million project will repave the road, fund lighting and plant new trees. The airport road is known to U.S. servicemembers as Route Irish, and reporters once called it the “most dangerous road in Iraq.”
While there has been tremendous progress over the past year, much work remains, Bergner said. Neighboring countries are beginning to increase their support for the Iraqi government, he said, and Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable. The progress in the country “will also be sustained by the will of the Iraqi people and their capacity to carry on,” the general added.