U.S. commander in Ramadi says situation has improved
ARLINGTON, Va. — The security situation in Ramadi, long regarded as one of Iraq’s most dangerous cities, is finally improving, the U.S. military commander who oversees coalition operations there said Friday.
In a video teleconference with Pentagon reporters from Ramadi, Army Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, noted that when he last spoke to journalists, in July, he told them “we’re at a tipping point” in the fight for Ramadi.
“Well, I think we’ve actually tipped,” MacFarland said Friday.
Attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces “are down by 25 percent over the past couple of months,” from 20 per day to 15, MacFarland said.
“Overall, the effectiveness of the enemy attacks has decreased somewhat,” MacFarland said. “This month, particularly, there’s been a noticeable drop-off — I’d say about a 50 percent drop-off in effectiveness.”
MacFarland would not quantify his statements, or discuss casualty levels.
“I don’t want to get into too much specifics,” he said. “I don’t want to give the enemy direct feedback on how effective he’s been.”
Insurgents, meanwhile, are less willing to face coalition forces head-on, MacFarland said.
“The enemy is shifting to a standoff, low-risk type of attack,” he said. “The number of guys running around in black ninja suits during an attack has been cut by probably two-thirds.”
In the heart of Anbar Province, Ramadi is dominated by tribal sheiks who until recently showed little interest in aligning with Iraq’s new central government.
But earlier this month, the sheiks announced they would band together to flush out insurgent forces.
That change of heart is one of the reasons “the situation [in Ramadi] is beginning to spiral in our favor,” MacFarland said.
Meanwhile, “Iraqi police recruiting has soared tenfold,” MacFarland said, and Iraqi security forces “are now assuming the lead in portions of the city and the suburbs.”
Public works projects are also moving forward, MacFarland said, and by February the brigade expects to have doubled both water and power services to Ramadi.
Despite the improvements, MacFarland acknowledged that 15 daily attacks against his troops indicates Ramadi still has a long way to go before the security situation is completely under control.
“The decreased level of violence in Ramadi is relatively new,” MacFarland said. “Right now, the glass is maybe three-quarters empty, one-quarter full. “But we’re filling it up with water every day.”
Ramadi may be improving, but the difficult security situation elsewhere in Iraq is having a direct effect on MacFarland’s brigade: Last week, the 1st Brigade Combat Team learned that its one-year tour in Iraq was being extended by 46 days.
The unit was supposed to leave for Germany on Jan. 13, 2007. The new redeployment date is Feb. 28, MacFarland said.
In speaking with his troops about the extension, MacFarland said, the general attitude to the news has been “a collective shrug.”
“Nobody is very happy about it. I’m not particularly happy about it myself,” MacFarland said.
But the soldiers “have a job to do,” he said. “And they’re going to keep on doing it to the best of their ability to the very end.”