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Forces Brace For 'Spectacular Attacks'
By Sandra Jontz
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 11, 2004,

U.S. soldiers of Task Force Olympia in northern Iraq are bracing themselves for "spectacular attacks" as the desperation of enemy forces continues to grow, Army Brig Gen. Carter Ham said Tuesday.

"There is evidence that we are likely to see an increase in activity based on [an increase] in terrorists, foreign fighters, extremists, criminals [and] former regime elements," Ham said during a press briefing in Baghdad, hooked in to the Pentagon. "They are attacks against coalition and attacks on symbols of progress, whether economic or otherwise."

The use of recent terrorist tactics is "evidence of the desperation of our enemy," Ham said.

While the most recent attacks, including Tuesday's attack in Mosul in which a grenade tossed in a governing council building injured seven Iraqis, have not been of the magnitude of the Feb. 1 twin bombings in Irbil that killed more than 100 people at the offices of the Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdistan Democratic Party, Ham said he is bracing for a surge, especially as the U.S.-led coalition moves to handing over power this summer.

The threats and attacks also have revealed mounting evidence that Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group linked by U.S. officials to al-Qaida, operates in the northern region, he said, declining to provide details.

He foresees no immediate change in the task force's missions and security presence come June 30, when the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority transfers sovereignty to the interim Iraqi Governing Council.

However, his troops will be working "as expeditiously as we can to train Iraqi security forces so they can assume their rightful role," he said.

On Feb. 5, Task Force Olympia assumed control of the northern provinces of Mosul, Al Qayyarah and Tall Afar, from the Army's 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky.

The transition left Ham with about one-third the number of U.S. troops as were with the 101st now 8,000 U.S. forces, of which 6,000 are Stryker Brigade Combat team infantry soldiers.

But Ham has a growing number of Iraqi security forces who are taking over jobs once performed by coalition members, he said.

Still, there are shortcomings associated with the Iraqi forces in training, equipment and, most notably, the attitude of the Iraqi people to accept and trust the new Iraqi police, army and border patrol units.

"The principal shortfall is not tactical, but the culture of the people in trusting the security forces" who under the former government had been associated with oppression, Ham said.

He also is working to stymie tensions between U.S.-led forces and the peshmerga, Kurdish militiamen who fought against Saddam Hussein and backed U.S. forces, and now wants to maintain their independence as a paramilitary force.

But the U.S.-led coalition strongly opposes that, and Ham said he is working to fold the forces into the Iraqi border patrol, army or civil defense forces.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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