The commanding general of coalition forces in northwestern Iraq says experienced Iraqi units are playing a greater role in the effort to secure the border with Syria, which most of the foreign fighters operating in Iraq are believed to have crossed. The general spoke from Mosul in a news conference with reporters at the Pentagon.
Major General David Rodriguez says about 90 foreign fighters have been captured in northwestern Iraq since last November, and he believes another 60 killed themselves in suicide bombings. General Rodriguez says he is in the midst of a program to put more veteran Iraqi soldiers along the border to try to reduce the number of foreign fighters entering the country.
"We have in the process of executing an operation called "Veterans Forward," where elements of the Third Iraqi Army Division as well as the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment have executed operations out on the western border region, that is attempting to stem the flow that comes from the western boundary here in the vicinity of Rubiah and the Sinjar Mountains," added General Rodriguez.
General Rodriguez says the more prominent role for Iraqi forces along the border is only one part of the training and deployment of the country's new military and police forces. He says an Iraqi Intervention Force has been handling security in central Mosul for the past three months. The general reports that 400 officers graduate from basic police training in the northwest region every month, and they regularly go out on patrol. He particularly praised the police for staying at their posts in the face of three attacks on police buildings, including a suicide car bomb, just a week ago.
The general said he expects to have between six and ten thousand Iraqi soldiers ready to help secure the constitutional referendum, scheduled for October.
At the same time, the U.S. military reports that June was one of the deadliest months for U.S. forces since the end of major combat in Iraq, with 68 American troops killed. General Rodriguez echoed statements by other U.S. officials, who note that the number of attacks on coalition forces is down, but the attacks tend to be deadlier.
"The casualty counts are certainly disturbing, but is not a direct indicator of what is going on in the insurgency," he said. "The counts in this area, in the Multi-national Force Northwest has not had a significant increase in that month."
The commander of coalition forces in northwestern Iraq said his troops are working to counter the most lethal insurgent tactic, roadside bombs. He said a special task force is studying insurgent tactics and patterns, and he reported an increase in help from ordinary Iraqis. General Rodriguez says his units received three tips from Iraqis on Friday alone, which led to the destruction of two roadside bombs and the discovery of a weapons cache.