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American Forces Press Service

Commander Describes Routing Foreign Fighters From Tal Afar

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2005 The commander of coalition troops in Iraq today described "an extremely successful tactical operation" in which U.S. and Iraqi troops all but cleared Tal Afar, Iraq, of foreign fighters.

Tal Afar is one of two major transit zones for foreign fighters coming into Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said from Baghdad today. The other route is through the Euphrates River Valley, farther south.

U.S. troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi forces from the 3rd Iraqi Army Division have been working for two months to plan and prepare for an operation to "restore Iraqi control to Tal Afar," Casey said.

Since Sept. 10, this combined force has been engaged in an operation to clear a roughly 600-by-800-meter section in the center of Tal Afar that foreign fighters had set up as a sanctuary.

The combined force killed about 150 insurgents and captured roughly 350 more. Casey said officials estimate this accounted for about 75 percent to 80 percent of the foreign fighters and other insurgents they believed were in the city. "It looked like a pretty tough fight," he said.

Strong support from the Iraqi government made the soldiers' mission significantly easier, Casey said. In the days leading up to the military assault, Iraqi government representatives spent time in Tal Afar and brokered an agreement with local leaders from all local ethnic groups: Shiia, Sunni and Turkoman.

"The other piece of this that sometimes gets lost is the Iraqi government was very much involved in setting the conditions for success," he said.

Casey explained that local sheiks signed statements saying basically: "We've had enough. We ask for the military to come in and clean the terrorists and foreign fighters out of Tal Afar."

This led to support for the mission from the city's civilian population. "That had a huge impact on what we had to deal with with respect to the population of that city," Casey said.

About 20,000 civilians left Tal Afar before the fighting began. The Iraqi and coalition force was prepared with humanitarian assistance, but many of those who fled went to stay with friends or relatives elsewhere, Casey said. The Iraqi government also provided $50 million to compensate civilians whose property was damaged and to fund rebuilding damaged areas.

The mission was intended to allow Iraqi civilians to participate in the upcoming constitutional referendum Oct. 15.

To ensure a lasting success in Tal Afar, coalition and Iraqi forces will have to work together with the Iraqi government, Casey said. "The troops will continue to disarm the neighborhoods and clear the city," he said. "And the Iraqi government is working on the political reconciliation to keep all the sheiks together, to reconstitute the local government, to reconstitute the police force, (provide) compensation, and begin reconstruction all throughout the town."

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