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News | June 6, 2008

General credits lull in Iraq violence to better security, citizen help

By John J. Kruzel , Armed Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (June 5, 2008) — Last month marked the fewest attacks in Iraq in four years, a reduction one military official attributed to improved security tactics and personnel and an increase in tips from Iraqi citizens.

The number of bombing attacks involving deadly, armor-piercing charges and homemade explosives decreased in May and continues to fall, Army Brig. Gen. John Campbell, deputy director for regional operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

“Both EFP and IED numbers continue to go down; the trend is looking very well,” Campbell said, referring to armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators and the more conventional roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, the two most common weapons used by militants in Iraq.

Campbell said coalition and Iraqi security forces are more aggressively seeking weapons caches, which often contain completed bombs or the materials necessary to manufacture them. Seizing these weapons and bomb-making ingredients depletes enemy resources, he added.

Meanwhile, coalition forces are placing greater emphasis on training police along Iraq’s eastern border with Iran. These border police are the first line of defense against smugglers sneaking EFPs into Iraq, where Iranian-backed “special groups” employ the shaped charges against coalition and Iraqi forces, Campbell said.

Iraqis also are taking seriously the issue of border security, he said, adding that Iraqi officials have held talks about improving checkpoints by fielding more X-ray machines and other sophisticated technology to help stem bomb smuggling.

Campbell acknowledged that enemy fighters tend to lay low or flee sections of the country where coalition and Iraqi forces increase their presence, as in Sadr City, Mosul and Basra, three areas that have received increased security focus recently. But the general did not concede that such tendencies alone explain last month’s downtick in bombing attacks.

“It’s no secret that if they stay and fight, they don’t have a chance,” Campbell said of the militants. “Whether they wait a time and come back and pick up those caches – I can’t tell. But just the trends right now for the IEDs and EFPs are continuing to go low.”

The general said the ranks of Iraqi security personnel continue to grow, with an overall force of about 559,000 that, alongside coalition forces, increasingly works among the Iraqi population.

“As we’ve flooded the zones, we’ve moved out the joint security stations and combat outposts [and have] a 24/7 presence out there. It’s a lot harder to put these [bombs] out as we continue to patrol,” Campbell said. “I think that combination has helped.”

Another element bolstering security is citizens groups, known as “Sons of Iraq,” that provide Iraqi and coalition forces with invaluable intelligence about enemy strategy and tactics, the general said.

Officials are planning to recruit some 15,000 Sons of Iraq members to join the nation’s security forces. At the same time, they seek to help the roughly 65,000 group members gain technical or other training, or find jobs.

Another key to tamping down violence in Iraq is an empirical understanding of enemy tactics gleaned over the course of deployments, Campbell said.

“I think the final thing is just experience,” he said. “The longer you are on the ground, … you’ll see the number of caches found and the number of IEDs and EFPs found much, much higher.”