UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) July 09, 2007
A top U.S. general in Iraq predicted disaster Friday if surge forces are brought home too quickly. "It would be a mess," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is conducting operations just south of Baghdad in known insurgent sanctuaries.
"Those surge forces are giving us the capability we have now to take the fight to the enemy, and the enemy only responds to force, and we now have that force," he said. "If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away, and the Iraqi security forces aren't ready yet to do that.
"If you did that ... you'd find the enemy regaining ground, re-establishing a sanctuary, building more (improvised explosive devices), carrying those IEDs in Baghdad, and the violence would escalate."
On Thursday another Republican senator pulled his support from the current surge strategy, in which 30,000 additional U.S. troops are conducting aggressive offensive operations against Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents including al-Qaida in Iraq.
"I am unwilling to continue our current strategy," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Thursday at a news conference in Albuquerque.
He joined Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, in calling for a new strategy in Iraq.
However, Domenici does not favor immediate withdrawal. "I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home," he said.
Exactly what that timetable for withdrawal should be is up for debate; Congress is looking to an assessment from military commanders in early September.
Lynch warned not to expect fast results from the current U.S. military strategy in Iraq.
"Everything takes time and everything takes longer than you think it's going to take," he said.
Lynch said the offensive operations should continue through September, and then operations could move to retaining ground gained in the fight, rebuilding infrastructure and government capacity and jump-starting the local economy.
"It's going to take me July, August and end of September to do that, and then we'll be able to work the build-and-retain piece with more fidelity," he said. "The problem is you're not going to see an instantaneous measurable effect. It's going to take a while."
Lynch acknowledged that over the past four years there has been neither a steady U.S. military presence nor a competent Iraqi police presence throughout Iraq. The rural area that stretches from southern Baghdad through Babil and Najaf provinces was allowed to become a sanctuary for insurgents and militias.
"If you look back over the last four years in Arab Jabour, there's been a coalition operation there, but it never stayed there. And what happens with the enemy forces is, they fill the void. As soon as the security forces leave, the enemy comes back," Lynch said. "So the idea of going there and then leaving doesn't work. You have to go there and you have to stay with a sustained security presence, and that's what we're trying to do now."
In the six months since former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, U.S. military commanders in Iraq have become increasingly vocal about the shortage of troops -- something most would talk about only off the record before, because it conflicted with official guidance from civilian commanders.
Lynch acknowledged in his comments to the reporters that there were still not sufficient reliable Iraqi security forces capable of operating on their own to effectively back up U.S. forces fighting the insurgents.
He also warned that the Iraqi security forces were not going to be capable of operating independently without U.S. military forces remaining in the country "any time soon."
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division conducting operations south of Baghdad, Friday laid out the problem in leaving Iraq clearly for Pentagon reporters. And he acknowledged that U.S, ground forces operating in that country have never had the sufficient number of troops on the ground that they needed to fulfill all their security commitments there.
"What you've heard before from all of the commanders here in Iraq is we never have enough forces, and we could use even more forces. It doesn't have to be coalition forces, but for sure Iraqi security forces to reach out," he said.
In the six months since former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, U.S. military commanders in Iraq have become increasingly vocal about the shortage of troops -- something most would talk about only off-the-record before, because it conflicted with official guidance from civilian commanders.
Lynch's division is working in about 70 percent of his battle space -- an area the size of West Virginia. "There's about 30 percent that's still out there, that's enemy territory, and we have to take the fight to the enemy," he said.
His fight so far has only targeted Sunni insurgents in one of four known enemy sanctuaries. Lynch said in coming weeks he will push forces into the others.
"Upcoming operations will target both Shi'a and Sunni extremists," he said. "You'll see effect, but it's not going to be an instantaneous effect, it's going to take some time."
Lynch won't sacrifice ground gained in weeks of fighting to take new areas, however.
"We're not going to go any deeper in Arab Jabour than we can hold; either coalition forces have to stay there or competent Iraqi security forces have to stand up to the plate and say, 'I got this one. Go ahead and move south,'" he said.
There is a real shortage of competent Iraqi forces, Lynch said, particularly capable police. "We can debate all the time about quality, but the issue is not just quality, it's also quantity," he said. "In some places, there just aren't any Iraqi security forces, so there's nobody to hand the security off to, so we have to stay there."
The Iraqi government has agreed to add thousands more police and soldiers to its payrolls, but recruiting and training them -- and then testing them in battle -- also takes time.
"We need these surge forces," Lynch said. "Over time we can turn the area over to Iraqi security forces, and then we'll be ready to do something that looks like a withdrawal. But that's not going to happen any time soon."
While that process unfolds, Lynch said, he will remain focused on his mission -- clearing out enemy sanctuaries and holding towns safe from their return. He will stay away from answering the question on everyone's minds: when U.S. forces can be extricated from the daily fight in Iraq.
"It's silly for military professionals to say, 'Let me predict the future.' There are so many ... unknowns -- in how the enemy's going to respond, how the Iraqi security forces are going to respond, how the government of Iraq is going to do in building these Iraqi security forces. There are unknowns. So to say here's the date it's going to be OK would just be silly."
"I spend no time thinking about the political clock," he said.
Source: United Press International
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