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U.S. General Cites Signs of Progress in Iraq

20 March 2007

Coalition in Afghanistan ready for attacks against New Year's celebrations

Washington -- U.S. troops continue surging into Baghdad, Iraq, where hundreds of Iraqi families are returning to their homes, a senior U.S. military official says, adding that coalition forces in Afghanistan are preparing for Taliban attacks against Central Asian New Year’s celebrations beginning March 21.

“In Iraq, our top priority continues to be reducing violence and providing security in Baghdad to give Iraqi leaders the breathing room they need to make political progress,” Major General Michael Barbaro said March 20 at a Pentagon briefing. Barbaro, who has served in Iraq, is deputy director of regional operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

In January, President Bush announced a “surge” strategy for Iraq that involves deploying more than 21,500 additional U.S. troops -- five Army brigades -- to support an Iraqi government campaign to reduce violence in Baghdad and Anbar province. Two of the five Army brigades are already in place, and a third is just starting to travel to Baghdad from staging areas in Kuwait, Barbaro said. A fourth and fifth brigade are scheduled to deploy from the United States in April and May, and they will spend a month training in Kuwait before heading into Iraq.

Barbaro stressed that the surge strategy “will require sustained action over a period of months.” But, he added, “We have already seen some positive indicators.”

Local Iraqis are providing more information to coalition forces about possible attacks, which Barbaro said is an indicator of local support for the campaign against insurgents. “In February, since the start of this operation, we’ve had the highest number of tips from the Iraqi population in Baghdad than we’ve ever had,” Barbaro said.

U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces now are operating in every neighborhood in Baghdad, Barbaro said. “We go and ... establish a presence and maintain that presence to get a foothold and live and work in these neighborhoods,” he said.

Barbaro said he has read initial reports saying that hundreds of Iraqi families that previously fled the violence, appeared to be moving back to their Baghdad homes.

Overall violence has declined in Baghdad, but insurgents continue targeting coalition forces and continue high-profile attacks such as car bombs and suicide bombs.

“Violence directed at Iraqi civilians has dropped by about a third of the averages before mid-February,” Barbaro said. “Murders and executions against civilians ... have decreased significantly, somewhere in the area of about a 50 percent decrease.”

He said that insurgents have exploded six truck bombs filled with chlorine.  He also described a recent attack that used children inside a car bomb to reduce suspicion. “We saw a vehicle with two small children in the back seat come up to one of our checkpoints,” Barbaro said. “Children in the back seat lower suspicion. We let it move through. They parked the vehicle.” The adults then ran out and exploded the vehicle “with the children in the back,” Barbaro said.

AFGHANISTAN

In Afghanistan, coalition forces prevented the Taliban from achieving any of its main objectives in 2006, Barbaro said. But this year’s attacks were expected to resume with the March 21 New Year’s observance, when people across Central Asia celebrate the beginning of spring. The traditional Central Asian and Persian New Year, known as Nowrouz but with variants in spelling, has been criticized by Islamic militants because it originated with an ancient spring festival celebrated long before the founding of Islam. (See related article.)

“We expect increased activity” from Taliban insurgents, Barbaro said. “That’s the pattern that they’ve established, and that’s what we should expect. They’ll try to disrupt the festivals and celebrations attendant to the Afghan New Year.”

A year ago, Barbaro said, “the enemy announced a spring offensive with the following goals: to isolate Kandahar; erode the Afghan people’s confidence in their government, the United States’ commitment and NATO’s commitment; weaken NATO resolve; undermine Afghan national and political unity; and to set the conditions for the fragmentation of the south.”

U.S. and NATO forces “experienced some tough fighting through the spring and summer,” Barbaro said. However, “the enemy failed to achieve any of their stated objectives, most notably failing to isolate Kandahar or remove the NATO forces or weaken their resolve.”

Officials have said in recent weeks that the United States and NATO allies are deploying additional troops to Afghanistan to maintain the initiative with a coalition-led spring offensive against the Taliban.

Recruiting for the Afghan national army has increase 306 percent over a year ago, troop retention has increased by 56 percent and 36 percent fewer Afghan troops are absent without leave, Barbaro said.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Response to Terrorism, Iraq Update and Rebuilding Afghanistan.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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