A U.S. military commander in Iraq, Marine Colonel Stephen Davis, says coalition forces are defeating efforts by terrorists to enter the country along the porous Syrian border. Colonel Davis, who said terrorists are also being denied safe haven in al-Anbar province, briefed reporters via satellite from Iraq.
Colonel Davis is commander of a Marine combat team that operates in western al-Anbar province, which has been a haven for insurgents, especially foreign fighters, battling the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Colonel Davis says his troops, along with newly trained Iraqi forces, have made significant progress in sealing the Syrian border and routing insurgents from villages along the Euphrates River.
"The metric [situation] that has changed up there, quite frankly, is that we have taken all the sanctuary areas away from the terrorists and they find it a great deal more difficult now to traffic through that area, which was a main pipeline for them coming into this country," said Colonel Davis.
Colonel Davis says many of the Sunni Muslims who live in western Iraq are not cooperating with foreign insurgents and have been providing helpful information to the U.S.-led coalition.
"The greatest source of our intelligence is the Iraqi people in these towns," he said. "They have no love for the foreign fighters. The foreign fighters have absolutely nothing to offer the future of Iraq. The people know that and the people are the ones that give them up to us. They are the ones that provide that intelligence. As soon as we have actionable intelligence I will hit that target."
Davis says one of the sanctuaries taken away from the insurgents is the city of Rupa. Dirt walls built by U.S. and Iraqi forces now surround the city, and there are limited points of entry. As a result, Davis says, the level of smuggling and insurgent activity has plummeted.
The colonel says the results of the coalition's efforts in al-Anbar province are showing up in positive ways in other areas of Iraq.
"I think we can definitely point to progress when you look at the number of suicide bombings that were taking place in Baghdad back in the April-May timeframe, when you compare them to what is happening now, I think that is a direct correlation to what we have been able to cutoff coming through the western Euphrates River valley, as well as efforts down in different areas of operation like Ramadi, Fallujah and in Baghdad itself," explained Colonel Davis.
Colonel Davis says Marines and Iraqi security forces are regularly killing and capturing foreign fighters and Iraqi insurgents.
Davis says those who are taking their place do not have the same planning and operational skills and, as a result, their activities are less effective.