WASHINGTON -- A truce between radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the U.S.-led coalition in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf is holding, the U.S. Central Command operations director said today.
Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler told Pentagon reporters during a satellite briefing from Qatar today that no large-scale operations are going on in the city, but U.S. forces are "keeping an eye" on Sadr's militia.
"We are staying out of the holy city," he said. "We were asked to go ahead and step back, and we have done that, although we have not relinquished our presence, which we will not do. We will continue to go ahead and go where we feel we must go and do what we must do. But again, we are, in fact, honoring the request to stay clear of the holy city and the holy shrines."
Maj. Gen. Sattler confirmed earlier reports today of several small confrontations in and around Najaf, in which U.S. combat patrols were hit five different times.
"Three of those were direct-fire (rocket-propelled grenades) or small arms, and two of those were mortar attacks," he said. "We did have two soldiers wounded, and we captured three anti-coalition militia."
The general said he's not sure how well Sadr is holding his half of the Iraqi- brokered peace agreement, "and we'll just keep our eye on that."
The truce with Sadr's militia is an important issue as the U.S. commanders hope to soon relinquish patrols to Iraqi Civil Defense Corps forces. But before that happens, the general said, the coalition still has work to do before relinquishing control across the entire area of responsibility. He said CENTCOM's goal is to stand up 45 ICDC battalions, eventually, over time, "and to have each and every one capable of doing independent operations."
But the coalition won't go about it hastily, he said. "It'll be event- driven. It'll be based on their performance, and it'll be based on the assessment and the capability of which areas they do go into, (and) how large and tough a mission they might take on. All those (factors) will fit into that equation."
Maj. Gen. Sattler told reporters that ICDC units with longevity have become very good with their tactics, techniques and procedures.
"We've had a number of ICDC warriors who have fought extremely well," he said. "They have proven themselves on the battlefield, and many of them have paid by being severely wounded or lightly wounded, and some have paid with their lives."
U.S. forces in Iraq average about 2,000 patrols in a 24-hour period, Maj. Gen. Sattler said, with an average of 300 being joint patrols with Iraqi coalition partners. Iraqi security forces, most of them ICDC troops, are conducting an additional 150 independent patrols, he said.
Maj. Gen. Sattler explained that the bottom line for the coalition in establishing and maintaining security is to create a partnership with the Iraqi police force and the ICDC, "where no patrol goes out, no operation is conducted without an Iraqi alongside of a coalition member."
The general also gave a status report on combat operations inside Iraq, Afghanistan and on the Horn of Africa.
In northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Sattler said, Task Force Olympia -- the Stryker Brigade - has focused its operations in the Mosul area, and continues to patrol the main supply routes to ensure they stay open.
Units from the 1st Infantry Division and 1st Cavalry Division are conducting similar missions in the north-central zone and in Baghdad. The 1st Armored Division, which was extended for 90 days, controls operations along the main supply routes south of Baghdad, he said.
In the western zone, the Marines have pulled out of Fallujah, turning the city over to the Fallujah Brigade, which now occupies the internal sector of the town, Maj. Gen. Sattler said. Pulling the Marines out of the city frees them up to push additional forces out toward the Syrian border and to continue to work in other areas of Anbar province, the general explained.
"They stretched the lines," he said. "As you do in any combat operation, you put your combat power where you need it for the time at hand. They were able to go ahead and pull some of those forces back out to not only secure the borders, but also to work the towns along the Syrian border, which is important ... to make sure that there are no safe havens in those towns."
Other objectives are to work civil-military operations projects, provide some degree of commerce, bring money into the town and generally enhance the quality of life, the general added.
In Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Sattler said, offensive operations continue along the Afghan- Pakistan border toward the south and southeast of the country, where the aim is to keep "off balance" anyone who thinks there is a safe haven there.
Maj. Gen. Sattler said Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa is working closely with several African nations to patrol maritime lanes across the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea. He said Allied Forces Central Europe components are "cross- training" with Kenyans, Ethiopians, Yemenis, and Djiboutians in maritime interception operations.