Top generals say U.S. troops' presence may fuel insurgency
The U.S. generals running the war in Iraq presented a new assessment of the military situation in public comments and sworn testimony this...
WASHINGTON — The U.S. generals running the war in Iraq presented a new assessment of the military situation in public comments and sworn testimony this week: The 149,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are increasingly part of the problem.
During a trip to Washington, the generals said the presence of U.S. forces was fueling the insurgency, fostering an undesirable dependency on American troops among the nascent Iraqi military, and energizing terrorists across the Middle East.
For all these reasons, they said, a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops is imperative.
U.S. officials months ago dialed back their expectations of what the U.S. military can achieve in Iraq. But the comments this week showed that commanders believe a large U.S. force in Iraq might in fact be creating problems as well as solutions.
"This has been hinted at before, but its a big shift for them to be saying that publicly," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It means they recognize that there is a cost to staying just as there is a benefit to staying. And this has not really been factored in as a central part of the strategy before."
The generals' comments reflect an evolving outlook that senior military officials and even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have articulated in recent months: The battle against Iraqi insurgents will not be won by the U.S. military, and that the insurgency will go on long after U.S. troops have left Iraq.
"If [the insurgency] does go on for four, eight, 10, 12, 15 years, whatever ... it is going to be a problem for the people of Iraq," Rumsfeld said in June. The generals' words also represent a definition of military success in Iraq less ambitious than President Bush has given in recent statements.
Bush said last month that, "When the mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home."
More recently, Bush has emphasized the importance of training Iraqi troops as part of the U.S. mission.
But the ground commanders told Congress on Thursday that the number of "level one" Iraqi units at the highest state of combat readiness had dropped since June from three to one.
During his congressional testimony, Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, also said that troop reductions were required to "take away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency, that of the coalition forces as an occupying force."
A smaller U.S. presence could deflate some of the anger feeding the insurgency, Casey suggested.
Meanwhile yesterday, Rumsfeld said that Iraqi security forces are steadily improving and dismissed the news of a drop in the number of highest-rated units. "There are an awful lot of people chasing the wrong rabbit here, it seems to me," Rumsfeld told reporters, who pressed him and Casey about the reduction in Iraqi forces considered able to operate independently.
Casey arrived at a Pentagon news conference yesterday with statistics intended to show a much-improved Iraqi force. He noted, for instance, that the number of "level two" units — that is, those considered able to lead operations with U.S. support — had doubled since May (up to 36 battalions out of a total 116 army and special police battalions, according to other officials).
Rumsfeld called the decline in level one units "irrelevant," then later said "its relevance is minimal" compared with other factors.
Compiled from the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post
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