We Can Win In Iraq So Long As We Don’t Have To Defeat Anyone

The Pentagon’s effort at damage controlbackfires.

A senior American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that U.S.-led military operations are “stifling” the insurgency in western Anbar province but are not strong enough to defeat it.

Marine Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer told reporters in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Fallujah that he has enough U.S. troops — about 30,000 — to accomplish what he called his main mission: training Iraqi security forces.

“For what we are trying to achieve out here I think our force levels are about right,” he said. Even so, he said the training of Iraqi soldiers and police had not progressed as quickly as once expected.

“Now, if that mission statement changes — if there is seen a larger role for coalition forces out here to win that insurgency fight — then that is going to change the metrics of what we need out here,” he added.

Zilmer, who has commanded U.S. forces in western Iraq since February, said increasing the number of U.S. troops there would help in the short term, “but at the end of the day I don’t think it’s going to be the significant change that is necessary to achieve long-term security and stability out here in Anbar.”

What is needed, he said, is progress on the economic and political fronts that will undercut support for the insurgency.

[snip]

“Until those things change, until those long-term effects are realized, then trying to solve the insurgency out here is going to be problematic,” he said.

[snip]

As of Monday there were 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the highest number since December 2005. Most of the recent increase was for Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi forces are trying to avert a civil war.

Pentagon officials hastily arranged the interview with Zilmer in response to a series of news reports about a classified report by the chief of intelligence for the Marines in western Anbar province, Col. Pete Devlin. Zilmer said he agreed with the assessment by Devlin, who works for Zilmer, and he did not dispute news reports that characterized it as depicting Anbar as locked in a military stalemate with inadequate political progress.

[snip]

Zilmer would not discuss specifics of the Devlin report, but said he did not want more U.S. troops as long as his mission did not include defeating the insurgency.