Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Progress continues to roll forward in city of Hit, Iraq

Family, fellow Marines, and friends of The First Team, I hope this finds everyone doing well. We have been extremely busy since our last update in October. It's hard to believe TF 1/7 has almost hit the 1/2 way point of the deployment, time has been going by quickly. In the past 3 months, the Marines, Sailors, and soldiers of TF 1/7 have done an extraordinary job in exploiting the success within the AO that was initiated by the units (1st Bn, 2nd Marines and 2-7 Infantry, USA) preceding us. The companies have solidified the all so important relationships with the Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army, local leaders, and Iraqi citizens within their respective AOs and those relationships have resulted in increased security, improved basic services for the average citizen, and a significant number of tips that have led to the detainment of insurgents and the discovery of dozens of IEDs and Unexploded Ordinance (UXO). In total they have completed over 5,000 combat patrols, detained over 100 known and suspected insurgents, discovered over 150 IEDs, weapons caches, and unexploded ordinance, and driven over 100,000 miles in their HUMVEES, trucks, LAVs, and tanks. They have conducted dozens of raids, cordon and knocks, cache sweeps, and disruption operations. With the amount of 'activity' the Marines are doing as described above, we are not giving the enemy the time to rest or to regroup. In short, your Marines are performing as you would Marines. We are focused on many areas and while security remains one of our concerns as we are still in a combat zone and there is still danger for every patrol and convoy that leaves the wire, it is no longer the greatest concern. The security situation is at such a point that I recently briefed a 3 star general that AQI and the insurgency are nearly defeated and they have at least temporarily lost their ability to fight and can no longer interfere to a significant degree with the actions of friendly or Iraqi Security forces.The security is now allowing me, my subordinate commanders, and my staff to focus our energies and attention on improving a number of other issues like the local government...getting them to demand assistance from the Provincial level, getting them to communicate better with their citizens, to improve the basic services provided, and even to designing and developing a yearly and quarterly budget. The local city councils and mayors are getting government employees back to work and providing services like trash removal, repairs of water lines, repairs of electric lines, repairs of phone lines, and even road repairs and repaving. In the past, we (CF) would have to do some heavy coaxing and mentoring for them to take the initiative on items like this because of they way their government used to run under Saddam. All decisions were centralized and he allowed only a very select few to make them. Anyone who tried to do something on their own was quickly silenced. So to see them now is so encouraging and such a positive sign that our Iraqi brothers are truly embracing the freedom and the democracy they have been given. We are focused on the economy. In the main city of Hit, in the 3 months we have been here there as been an estimated increase of 30-40% new businesses opening. Many of them are right next to or across the street from one of my major FOBs. This was UNHEARD of before! The locals always feared coming back to these locations because of the likelihood of an AQI attack against CF...they didn't want to get caught in the middle of a fire fight and I cannot say I blame them for that. But now, due to our encouragement and the encouragement of the local government and civic leaders, they are coming back and new businesses open everyday. The housing market is certainly in a boom phase and each day I see more and more being built.We are focused on the Iraqi Rule of Law. Within the Hit District we now have three sitting judges who are hearing cases and investigating crimes with the local police. We have transferred a number of felony cases to Ramadi for trial at the "Federal Court." This is a significant accomplishment as it is THEIR process, it is THEIR laws, and THEY are doing it without our assistance or prodding. We are currently in the middle of a rebuilding project of the courthouse that when complete will give them a safe and respectable building to handle their own issues and trials. We are focused on improving the professionalism and capabilities of the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army. I can honestly say that both of these organizations continue to make steady and impressive improvement. Your Marines and soldiers are 'partnered' with the police and army at the lowest levels. I am continually amazed to watch a young 20 something Corporal or Sergeant get in front of a group of IPs or IAs and through the assistance of an interpreter, give a very detailed and professional period of instruction that then results in the Iraqis quickly turning around and executing what they had just been taught. They are extremely adapt and eager to learn. Recently I was visiting with one of the two Iraqi Battalion Commanders I am partnered with and he wanted to show me something of which he was very proud. We went to one of his buildings and inside were 20-25 Iraqi soldiers taking English lessons from one of the interpreters! They were determined to speak English properly and were all very excited when one of them completed a sentence correctly. Their English is certainly better then my Arabic! I asked the Battalion Commander why he was doing this. His answer was he wanted his Soldiers to speak English so when they go on patrol with the Marines they can communicate better and learn more from them. He also wanted to have his soldiers show their appreciation to us by speaking English vice us speaking Arabic to them. I know when a US platoon or company is truly making an impact on the Iraqis they are partnered with when I see the Iraqis starting to emulate "their" Marines. You can see it in how they begin to wear their uniforms, how they wear their protective battle gear outside the wire, and even how they sling or holster their weapons. When they want to be like the Marines, it means the Marines are doing their job right. The IP and IA are certainly not perfect nor are they Marines but with continued training and time they are going to be more then sufficient for the threats they currently face and those they could face in the near future.I have received many e-mails concerning the news coverage (or lack thereof) of the war and the positive progress we are seeing everyday. I too have been disheartened at times by the media's coverage of Iraq. Some in the media do not report to any large degree the successes we see or are experiencing on a near daily basis. Some are even downplaying and minimizing any successes that they do choose to mention. Since they can no longer ignore the improvements in security, a few have resorted to categorizing the successes we have achieved here as "luck." The truth of the matter is our current success is a result of nearly 5 years of counter-insurgency operations. A general officer recently summed it up perfectly last week as we toured the industrial area of Hit, an area that just a few short months ago was abandoned and now is by all accounts flourishing and improving everyday, by stating, "Every step we took, every footprint we left over the past four years have allowed us to get to this point today." It was not chance or luck. The Sheiks and tribal leaders didn't just wake up one day and decide to join the CF and risk their lives to fight against AQI and the insurgents...we had to earn their trust, prove to them that our objectives were genuine and noble, and we had to fight the enemy with everything we had to show our determination. The Sheiks' support was a combination of many ingredients but I can assure you luck had nothing to do with it. Luck is the near miss of an IED or a stray round, but luck does not result in the success we are currently enjoying...nearly 5 years of hard work does. This success has been earned by the blood, sweat, and tears of many, many Americans and Iraqis. Their sacrifice is just too great and their efforts too superb to dismiss their results and achievements as luck or chance.To be fair, we have had two reporters come out with us and both have been objective in their reporting. Our first reporter was a 65 year old woman from Berkley, CA whose stated purpose on her web page was to impeach the President. When I saw Jane Stillwater was slated to come to Hit, I thought I obviously had done something wrong and my CO was getting even with me! Well, by the end of her time her with 1/7, I believe we all saw things a bit differently. She was a good sport and she even laughed when she went to her room and saw the poster of George Bush on the wall with the sign stating her room was the "The George W. Bush Suite." She was also a good sport when we took her to Baghdadi and all the kids were chanting "We love George Bush!" as she got out of the vehicle...wonder where they learned that? At the end of her time with us, her eyes were opened and she saw we were doing good things here, that we were not just killing people indiscriminately, and that the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States were pretty well educated and even open minded. At one point she told me she was having difficulty coming to grips with what she had been led to believe was going on here from the news media and what she was seeing with her own eyes. In turn, we realized that there are many ways to look at something and even Marines could have a friend from Berkley. I give a lot of credit to Jane as she put herself at risk so that she could see for herself what was going on here. I may not agree with all of her political views but she certainly earned my and every Marines' respect and admiration. Our latest reporter was from the AP, Rich Tomkins, who was a former White House Correspondent. Rich was out with the Marines and soldiers of the Task Force most of the time and his reporting was very fair and certainly covered the positive developments that we see each day. More reporters like Rich and Jane would go a long way to help get the day to day events here to the American people.For Thanksgiving, the Sergeant Major and I traveled to all 14 FOBs, COPs, and OPs. It took us nearly 24 hours to do it but we wanted to 1) wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, 2) tell them how proud we are of them and what they have accomplished and 3) tell the Marines, Sailors, and soldiers that despite what they may see or read about in the Press, the American people support them, believe in our mission, and most importantly....they want us to win. I cannot tell you enough how important it is for the psyche of the average Marine, Sailor, and soldier to know that his country and his fellow Americans support what he is doing and believe his sacrifices and the sacrifices of his family are for a noble cause and not in vain. So thank you for the continued flood of letters and care packages as they mean a great deal to everyone here. I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a wonderful Holiday season and a blessed and Happy New Year for 2008. We all appreciate your support, your generosity, and your prayers more then you can imagine. As always, I ask that you remember the families of all those serving here in your prayers as well. Semper Fidelis,JJJJ DillLtCol, USMCCommanding Officer Task Force 1/7Hit, Iraq

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