Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Calming Force in Fallujah

With Anbar Province being considered the success story of the American efforts in Iraq, much attention has been given to Ramadi, where Sheik Sattar and his fellow Sunni sheiks joined forces with the Marines of 1/6 to make peace and drive Al-Qada and the other insurgents from the city.
Less publicized, but equally important to the continued success in Anbar Province, are the efforts of Regimental Combat Team 6. Under the command of Col. Richard Simcock, RCT-6 is responsible for operations in Fallujah and the surrounding area. Known as AO Raleigh, RCT-6 controls within Fallujah, as well as the area halfway between Ramadi and Habbaniyah (west) and halfway between Baghdad and Fallujah (east).
The RCT arrived in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, at the beginning of January 2007 and are scheduled to remain in Iraq for approximately 12 months. Regimental Combat Team 6 is comprised of units from across the Marine Corps, including elements from all four of the Corps’ infantry divisions. Currently, there are roughly 5,500 Marines, sailors, and soldiers assigned to the regiment, as well as an embedded State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team ( ePRT ) under the leadership of Steve Fakan.
ON POINT talked by phone with Col Simcock yesterday about conditions in Fallujah, as well as what he expects to see in the future.
Q - Colonel, the news here is all about withdrawing our troops. If worse came to worse and the Marines in RCT 6 had to pull out, how well would the Iraqi Security Forces ( Army, Police, the Neighborhood Watch ) deal with next 30 to 90 days?
A - Well, it could be a problem. Obviously, we watch the news over here, and obviously like you, watch what's going on with our national leadership and the chance of pulling out sooner. The key thing to keep in mind is that, as Marines, we want to finish the mission we've been given. We don't want to go out before it's done. We're having a lot of success. You talk about the provincial security forces that we're working with over here, that continues to increase, and we get more and more benefit out of their participation over here we're doing.
So we really focus not only being pulled out too soon, but what we focus on is completing the mission that we have over here. And we're having a lot of success with that, and I can't overstate the importance of having the Iraqis working with us in the form of -- like you asked me -- about the provincial security forces.
Q - Are the ISF able to operate on their own? Are they getting that good?
A- I classify the relationship that we have with them as a partnered relationship. They are never on their own, and we don't want them to be. They provide such a critical avenue for intelligence to us about what's happening on the ground that we are constantly engaged with them. In addition to that, with the relation -- the partnered relationship, we're constantly training with them, making them better, more capable force.
We want to stay engaged with them for what they give to us as a combat multiplier here in our AO.
Q -If you were commandant for the day or CINC for the day, what one or two capabilities that you may not have or need more of would top your list?
A- That's an easy question. And the commandant was just out here a couple weeks ago and I told him exactly what I wish I had more of. Engineers and route clearance. Those are the two capabilities that we need more of out here. It's a low – density, high-demand type capability. The engineers, they're working 24/7, literally. They're either building something or tearing something down, and that's something that I wish I had more of.
Q - The last time we talked, you said that you were using a lot less air support, artillery and similar sorts of heavy weaponry; that a Marine rifle team was sufficient to the tasks you were encountering. Can you talk about whether that trend has continued, or changed in any way?
A- I would say that it has continued. We don't use the heavy fire support assets as much as when we first got here. The air aspect, the air combat element still plays a very huge role from the aerial reconnaissance aspect. They do a lot to contribute to the mission. But I think what I told you last time was there's nothing out on the battlefield that a Marine rifle squad couldn't easily deal with. That is still true and probably more so.
But what has changed is the Iraqi equation to it. They continue to grow, Iraqi security forces, in the form of the Army, the Iraqi police, the provincial security forces, neighborhood watches. That has been the key element that has been able to allow me to do my mission and work with them so that we're both trying to accomplish the same thing.
Q - One of the more consistent complaints, I guess you'd say, is the fact that while at local and provincial level governments are standing up and becoming responsive, Mr. Maleki’s Central Government is not. Is that your experience as well?
A - You're hitting the long-term solution that's going to have to happen if we're going to have long-term success here in AO Raleigh. We are seeing limited support from the central government. It is happening, and I'll give you some examples of it.
The Minister of Interior is providing money to pay the Iraqi police, the provisional security forces. In addition to that money, they're providing equipment to support those law enforcement and provisional security forces also, but we need more. And in a lot of different areas we need a lot more to come a lot faster, and that's the piece -- it is working, but it -- I tell you, it's not working fast enough, and it's not working in sufficient amounts.
Q - How do you feel about what you see at a local and provincial level?
A- To say that I feel good would be an understatement. I am continually amazed at how energetic and how much the local Iraqi government is actually doing to better their situation. They put in a great deal of work; they're working hand to hand, not only with my Marines and soldiers on the ground, but they're also working with my embedded Provisional Reconstruction Teams. And they're truly the experts, you know, in the terms of reconstruction and governance, and they're working very, very close with them. And I'm very, very pleased with the efforts that local governance is putting forth.
Q - There are numbers coming out of Ramadi in the past couple of months, basically how few incidents there have been, on a weekly or monthly basis. Drops in IED attacks, drop in fire fights, numbers of bullets fired and that type of thing. Can you give us those kind of number from your AO.
A - Yes. IED attacks are down. Casualties are down. All measures of effectiveness that we track, all are going down in that regard; and the contrary is all the other measured -- positive measures of effectiveness that we track -- economic development, city governments standing up, numbers of police -- those type of statistics that we track, all up. From an overall trend, they are all good and continue to go that way.
COL. SIMCOCK: I hope that we can talk again, because, as I've told you last time we talked, I believe this is very, very important to our nation. I think that there are a lot of national interests, you know, at stake over here, and I think it's an important mission, and I just appreciate the time to talk with you and hopefully give you a little insight to what we're going through over here in AO Raleigh.

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