Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Coalition Continues to Hammer al Qaeda in Iraq

June 20, 2006

The coalition continues to hammer at the al Qaeda network in Iraq, a senior coalition official said here today, warning that the network didn't die when the coalition killed its former leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"The fact that we took out Zarqawi and decapitated the outfit doesn't mean that it will not have the ability to regenerate," said Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman.

But as the terror group attempts to regenerate, it is very vulnerable, he said, and the coalition is continuing to strike against it. During the past four days, the coalition took out Mansur Sulayman Mansur Khalif in the area of Yusufiyah. Caldwell said Mansur was in the top five of the al Qaeda organization and was considered its "spiritual" leader. He was a close associate of Zarqawi. Killed with him was an al Qaeda cell leader.

Since June 4, coalition and Iraqi forces killed 11 other leaders of the organization from Ameriyah to Baghdad to Yusufiyah. They captured four other al Qaeda leaders since June 8.

The al Qaeda leaders understand that this is a key period for Iraq's new government. Part of a letter found on a memory stick at one of the houses raided following Zarqawi's death showed that insurgents fear the Iraqi forces and understand they must win quickly or not at all, officials said.

And the Iraqi security forces continue to flex their muscles in and around Baghdad. Operation Together Forward continues in the city. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's security crackdown is having its effect. Attacks within Baghdad have fallen to levels not seen since February, Caldwell said. The Iraqi army and police and coalition forces are working together as a close-knit team to disrupt the insurgent network in the Iraqi capital, he said.

Caldwell said the police and army effort will continue, and he expects to see better results within two months.

Nationwide, Iraqi forces continue in the lead. Iraqi forces accounted for 34 percent of the operations conducted between June 10 and 16, or 143 operations. Combined coalition-Iraqi forces accounted for 245 operations, or 58 percent. The coalition launched only 36 operations on its own.

Caldwell said the hunt for two missing U.S. soldiers had ended tragically with the discovery of the soldiers' bodies near Yusufiyah. One soldier died and 12 were wounded in the search, and coalition and Iraqi forces killed two terrorists and detained 78, Caldwell said.

The Iraqi tip line received 66 intelligence tips, the general noted, 18 of which were "actionable" and followed up on.

Caldwell said all American personnel grieve for the fallen soldiers. "It pains us to think what fellow servicemembers may go through, or fellow citizens," he said. "I can just say that our resolve will continue until we have a final resolution and take the appropriate action against those who perpetrated the event."

Two servicemembers remain missing in Iraq: Army Sgt. Matt Maupin, missing in action since April 2004, and Navy Capt. Michael "Scott" Speicher, missing since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Caldwell said 11 American civilians - Defense Department contractors, civilian contractors and others - also are listed as missing.
(From DoD - American Forces Press Service and written by Jim Garamone)

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