WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. military commander warned on Friday against cutting the number of troops in Iraq, saying the Iraqi security force cannot fight on its own and a U.S. reduction would cede progress to the insurgents.
“It would be a mess,” said Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in an area stretching from Baghdad’s southern suburbs through a region known as the “Triangle of Death.”
He said the additional 30,000 troops sent to Iraq over the past four months had given commanders’ the ability to reach areas controlled by insurgents and provide greater security.
“If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away. And the Iraqi security forces aren’t ready yet to do that,” he said, speaking to Washington reporters by video link from Iraq.
“So now what you’re going to find — if you did that — is you’d find the enemy regaining ground, re-establishing a sanctuary, building more IEDs, carrying those IEDs in Baghdad and the violence would escalate,” he said, referring to the improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, used to deadly effect by insurgents.
The United States has about 157,000 troops in Iraq for a security plan aimed at halting Iraq’s slide to sectarian civil war. The strategy is meant to give the Iraqi government time to reach political targets Washington sees as critical to stability.
The full surge force has been in place for less than a month, but some U.S. lawmakers already call it a failure.
Lynch’s comments, in fact, came a day after another senior Republican lawmaker broke ranks with President George W. Bush over the four-year conflict.
The commander, however, cited progress linked to increased troop levels.
He estimated 30 percent of the territory in his area of responsibility was still under insurgent control, but said additional troops gave him the ability to tackle those areas.
He also said current operations had uncovered 41 weapons caches and 54 roadside bombs. He said 1,000 buildings had been cleared and 45 boats used to transport insurgents had been destroyed.
Asked how long it would take Iraqi security forces to assume security responsibilities, he said he did not know.
“Everything takes longer than you think it’s going to take,” he said.
“I spend no time thinking about the political clock. I spend all my time focused on killing or capturing the enemy forces.”