General Warns Of Risks In Iraq If G.I.’s Are Cut

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
November 16, 2006
Pg. 1

By Michael R. Gordon and Mark Mazzetti
WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 — The top American military commander for the Middle East said Wednesday that to begin a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq over the next six months would lead to an increase in sectarian killings and hamper efforts to persuade the Iraqi government to make the difficult decisions needed to secure the country.
The commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, made it clear that he did not endorse the phased troop withdrawals being proposed by Democratic lawmakers. Instead, he said the number of troops in Iraq might be increased by a small amount as part of new plans by American commanders to improve the training of the Iraqi Army.
General Abizaid did not rule out a larger troop increase, but he said the American military was stretched too thin to make such a step possible over the long term. And he said such an expansion might dissuade the Iraqis from making more of an effort to provide for their own security.
“We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect,” he said. “But when you look at the overall American force pool that’s available out there, the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.”
General Abizaid also publicly said for the first time that the American position in Iraq had been undermined by the Bush administration’s decision not to deploy a larger force to stabilize the country in 2003. That decision was made after Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff at the time, told Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be needed. His testimony was derided by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the general was ostracized at the Pentagon before his retirement a few months later.
“General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, U.S. force contribution and Iraqi force contribution should have been available immediately after major combat operations,” General Abizaid said. “I think you can look back and say that more American troops would have been advisable in the early stages of May, June, July.”
The testimony, given to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, was the first by the American commander since August, and it followed several months of setbacks in Iraq that helped to fuel the Democratic victories in last week’s election. Skepticism among lawmakers from both parties was palpable, and the concerns of the lawmakers were reinforced by intelligence officials who testified later in the day and who painted a more pessimistic portrait of the violence in Iraq than General Abizaid did.
Among the Iraq policy reviews now under way is an effort by the Iraq Study Group, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, and a separate administration study ordered by President Bush.
Under the immediate initiative that General Abizaid described, the number of American military advisers working with Iraqi forces will be increased, with advisers to be assigned even to small Iraqi units with fewer than 200 soldiers.
“We need to put more American capacity into Iraqi units to make them more capable in their ability to confront the sectarian problem,” General Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It is possible that we might have to go up in troop levels in order to increase the number of forces that go into the Iraqi security forces, but I believe that’s only temporary.”
The next steps in Iraq were very much on the mind of lawmakers on Wednesday. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, cited the concerns of Marine Corps officers in Anbar Province in complaining that General Abizaid had not dispatched enough forces to defeat the insurgency there. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said the Iraqi government was not taking the steps needed to win the trust of the population and improve security.
In their testimony on Wednesday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said they agreed with General Abizaid that American forces were one of the few elements keeping a lid on violence in Iraq and that withdrawing troops would only increase sectarian violence.
But General Maples said that the violence continued to increase in “scope, complexity and lethality” and that it was “creating an atmosphere of fear and hardening sectarianism, which is empowering militias and vigilante groups.”
In all of Iraq, attacks against allied troops last month averaged 180 per day, up from 170 per day in September and 70 per day in January, General Maples said in written testimony. Daily attacks on Iraqi civilians averaged roughly 40 per day last month, four times higher than the average in January. General Maples also noted that recent operations in Baghdad had achieved only a moderate success, because after American officials had turned neighborhoods over to the Iraqis, “attacks returned to and even surpassed preoperational levels.”
Reinforcing this view, General Hayden said the C.I.A. station in Baghdad assessed that Iraq was deteriorating to a chaotic state, with the political center disintegrating and rival factions increasingly warring with each other. “Their view of the battlefield is that it is descending into smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory,” he said.
The two intelligence officials said Wednesday that there were only an estimated 1,300 foreign fighters in the country and that the number of Sunni Arab insurgents actively planning and carrying out attacks on American forces was probably more than 10,000.
Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked General Abizaid how much time the United States had to bring down the violence in Baghdad before events there were beyond the control of the Iraqi government. General Abizaid said the answer was four to six months.
Securing Baghdad, the general said, was the main effort. But there are other difficult missions ahead, he said. One is supporting an Iraqi-led effort to disarm the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia nominally loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
Another is securing Anbar Province, the seat of the Sunni Arab insurgency. General Abizaid said that to try to hold the line there, he had decided to dispatch a 2,200-strong Marine Expeditionary Unit. “Al Anbar Province is not under control,” General Abizaid said.
Many experts have advocated talking directly to Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq, an approach the Iraq Study Group is expected to endorse. General Hayden said that Iran’s ambitions inside Iraq seemed to be expanding and that Iran had been conducting a foreign policy of “dangerous triumphalism.”
David M. Satterfield, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq, told the Senate committee that the United States was prepared “in principle” to discuss the situation in Iraq with Iran, but the timing was uncertain.
“We are prepared in principle to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq,” Mr. Satterfield said. “The timing of such a direct dialogue is one that we still have under review.”