The headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Division deployed two months ago and already we’ve made great progress. I am so proud of our soldiers.
In our area we are responsible for four of the southern provinces of Iraq. We have established 26 sites where our soldiers are working with Iraqis and living among them to achieve population security.
When the population feels secure, violence decreases.
In addition to securing the population, we are blocking insurgents headed to Baghdad. When we kill or capture insurgents, we decrease Baghdad’s violence and help secure Iraq’s capital. Since the 3rd Infantry Division assumed control of the Multi-National Division-Center in April, our soldiers have discovered 94 caches, conducted 477 joint patrols with the Iraqi Army, and successfully cleared 327 IEDs that would have been catastrophic to the lives of our soldiers.
This is a return trip for me. I left Iraq in May of last year. In the area of Iraq where I am now, I can tell you, that the most notable difference is the increased capacity of the Iraqi Army soldiers.
Their leaders are tough and fair. Their soldiers are honest.The organization wants to take responsibility. These Iraqi Army soldiers are also paying a severe price. For the first time here in our area, Iraqi Army casualty numbers are equal with the U.S. Army.
I see a general improvement in atmospherics in our sector. Shia and Sunni are coming together to fight Al Qaeda here. After years of oppression, they learned that fighting an enemy together is more powerful than fighting alone. In one largely Shia town, the mayor is non-sectarian, and he visits his Sunni residents. Recently, all the tribal sheiks in one of the districts here came together in an effort to make theirs a more stable province.
The discovery of caches and elimination of terrorists is not our only measure of success. The civil affairs efforts include the completion of medical missions, building schools and organizing vocational education centers. In one town, students were receiving no formal education; and in April, we helped them open both a primary and a secondary school. In another town, we are helping residents build a soccer stadium.
Our goal in Task Force Marne is to create opportunities for the youth and jobs for the unemployed, giving the Iraqis a way to earn money without turning to terror as a means of income.
All of our brigade combat teams now have embedded provincial reconstruction teams. These teams work with the military and are completely focused on helping the provincial governments rebuild their own infrastructure. It’s a perfect example of synergy. American civilians draw from military capabilities to enable the Iraqis.
I promised to tell you about the good and the bad.
I’ll tell you that the local police have some improvements to make. Their forces are not ethnically diverse and sectarian decisions are keeping the Iraqi government from succeeding.
The local governments cannot form the appropriate relationships with the national government.
We are helping provincial governors travel to Baghdad so that they can interface with their national government. They have to take the initiative to do it themselves.
In the last two weeks I personally met with the governors of three provinces to get a sense from them on what is important to their provinces. We are helping them with the projects they want to accomplish. Some want to focus on health care, others want to focus on bridges and others want to focus on developing the economy.
We’ve developed weekly meetings on their chosen topics to assist them in developing their provinces.
Just this week the Iraqi Army took control of their strategic infrastructure brigades. This will allow the marrying of capabilities so pipe and oil lines can be fixed and protected by Iraqis.
After 60 days on the ground, I’ve identified the four areas in the Multi-National Division-Center where the enemy has been dominating for the last few years. As we surge, the enemy surges. We must aggressively take the fight to him.
We are fighting three groups — Shia extremists, Sunni extremists and those who are susceptible to Iranian influence. In June, we will take full control of another province in the east and this will allow us to better monitor the Iranian border.
Since we took control April 1, Task Force Marne has lost 34 soldiers. Sixteen of those soldiers belong to your 3rd Infantry Division.
We often call the World War II generation the greatest generation, but as I listened to the stories of our fallen, men like Capt. Colby Umbrell and Spec. Matthew Bolar, I think that this generation is the newest greatest generation. Capt. Umbrell graduated from Johns Hopkins University and sought a life of service to his nation. Bolar spent only three short months at home after his last deployment before volunteering to deploy again because he felt his nation needed him. Neither man objected to service. Both paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
This week, soldiers attached to Task Force Marne from the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team suffered the loss of four soldiers in a brutal attack southwest of Baghdad. An Iraqi soldier attached to their team was also killed.
As I write this, three soldiers from that team are still missing and their status is unknown. We pray for their families.
Take care and God bless.