Mideast edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The following correction to this story was posted July 18, 2007: The July 18 story on Dagger Brigade should have said the unit was responsible for northwest Baghdad in November 2006.

ARLINGTON, Va. — A solid security plan and the extra troops provided by the “surge” are bolstering the two-front fight against Sunni insurgents trying to infiltrate Baghdad from the northeast and al-Qaida insurgents working their way into the city from the northwest, a U.S. commander said Tuesday.

The security plan “provides me with a more narrowed focus in a very complex battlefield for my soldiers,” Col. J.B. Burton, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division told Stripes in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

Before the “surge” began, Burton’s “Dagger Brigade” had just three battalions to cover a huge area in East Baghdad, extending all the way up through Abu Ghraib in the northwest, he said.

As part of the Baghdad security plan — which includes the additional 30,000 “surge” troops — Burton’s Task Force was not only reassigned to cover a smaller area, he was given an additional two maneuver battalions to do it.

Instead, “I was able to focus efforts on an al-Qaida supply and support line, which originates in Anbar province, and comes in from [northwest of the city] … as well as focus energies on the fight up in the north, against the Shia extremists expansions.”

The area Dagger Brigade now covers is a heavily urban 57 square miles of northwest Baghdad that include the Mansour and Kadamiyah security districts.

To carry out his missions, Burton now has about 5,000 U.S. troops under his command, split into five maneuver task forces, a combat engineer battalion, and a forward support battalion, and five separate companies.

As part of the security plan, Burton has positioned many of his combat troops into 13 security outposts, which are located on “sectarian fault lines” where the ethnic mix of Sunnis and Shiites is most likely to spark unrest, Burton said.

The U.S. troops live and conduct patrols and other missions out of the outposts together with Iraqi security forces. Living conditions at the outposts are Spartan, with few, if any, of the amenities troops enjoy at larger forward operating posts, such as laundry services, movie theaters, or gyms.

Even so, Burton said, “Most of them will tell you they’d rather be there than living on the big [bases], because out there, they feel like they’re making a difference.”

The troops are “living out there on the danger’s edge 24-7, patrolling those mean streets to provide some hope to the citizens of Baghdad,” Burton said.

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