San Diego Union Tribune

September 20, 2006

More U.S. troops not needed in Iraq, commander says


WASHINGTON – The top U.S. commander for the Persian Gulf region said yesterday that more U.S. troops are not needed in Iraq and actually could be counterproductive by hampering the turnover of security to Iraqi forces.

But Army Gen. John Abizaid said he did not expect any reduction in the more than 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq until at least spring, instead of this fall as had been predicted.


<A TARGET="_top" HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER=0></A> Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, said he has enough troops in Iraq, but he acknowledged that U.S. forces cannot deal simultaneously with the deadly sectarian conflict in Baghdad and the violent insurgency in Anbar province.

Abizaid said he was “aware that a Marine staff officer wrote a paper where he expressed concern about the way things are going” in Anbar, the sprawling western province that is the responsibility of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

That was a reference to a report by Col. Pete Devlin, the force's top intelligence officer, that concluded Anbar was out of control politically and could not be won militarily.

“But Anbar is not the decisive point. Baghdad is,” Abizaid said in a session with defense reporters.

The general said it was clear that “Anbar province is a problem that has to be dealt with over time.” But Baghdad has to come first, he said, adding, “Any commander that tries to do everything will do nothing. “We'll get to Anbar province. The Marines are doing a heck of a job out there” with Army reinforcement.

While acknowledging that he did not have enough forces to deal with all the security challenges in Iraq, Abizaid said adding U.S. troops would be exactly the wrong thing to do because it would interfere with the effort to get Iraqi forces to take responsibility for their country's security.

“Every time Americans operate in large numbers, it creates a dynamic where the Iraqis do less,” he said.

The key to victory is getting the Iraqis to take over the fight for their own country, Abizaid said.

Abizaid said he and Army Gen. George Casey, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, were concentrating their effort on suppressing the sectarian violence in Baghdad.

To reinforce that effort, Casey sent in an Army brigade that had been scheduled to go home and, with Iraqi troops, has been conducting major sweeps through neighborhoods in the sprawling capital.

In congressional testimony earlier this summer, Abizaid said the sectarian violence in Baghdad was “as bad as I have seen.”

Yesterday, he said, “The situation in Baghdad is slightly better,” but added that the city “is not going to clarify itself militarily for many months.”

“I do believe that the sectarian tensions, if left unchecked, could be fatal to Iraq,” he said.

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