By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 11, 2006 – The killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi is a major blow to al Qaeda in Iraq but will not end terrorism there, the top U.S. general in Iraq said today.
"They (terrorists) lost their leader. And any organization, particularly an organization at war, that loses their leader is affected," Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Multinational Force Iraq commander, told host Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" this morning.
There will be additional terrorist attacks in Iraq, the general said, but coalition forces will continue to disrupt Zarqawi's network "in what we feel is a vulnerable period."
He said he gave the order to carry out the air strike after Zarqawi's spiritual mentor, Sheik Abd-al-Rahman, had been tracked to a known safe house. "There were serious signals that he was there to attend a meeting with Abu Musab al Zarqawi," Casey said.
The safe house was in a remote and isolated area with only one road in, so to avoid detection, an air strike was chosen as the method of attack, he said.
The general said a series of operations following the strike on Zarqawi has further disrupted the terrorist network. "We have had a steady drumbeat of operations against the al Qaeda network here in Iraq since the Zarqawi operation," he said.
On the topic of security in Baghdad, Casey said it is not a given that U.S. troops will concentrate on the capital city. "But it's possible," he said.
The cohesion of the new Iraqi unity government and the naming of key cabinet positions last week should help the security situation in Baghdad and around the country, he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has an opportunity to bring the power of the new unity government to bear on the security situation in Baghdad, Casey said. "We have not had that before," he added.
The general recently met with the new Iraqi interior, defense and national security ministers. "I left that initial session with them with the firm impression that we've got bright, articulate, hard-charging folks that are going to take charge of these ministries and take the country in the right direction," he said.
One of the biggest challenges the new government faces is trying to reduce the influence of militias, Casey noted.
As the new government takes root and Iraqi security forces continue to improve, the U.S. will begin gradually reducing its troop levels in Iraq over the coming months and into next year, Casey told Bob Schieffer on the CBS News program "Face the Nation," also this morning. "Last year around this time, we had less than a handful of Iraqi army units that were actually in the lead, providing security around the country," he said. "Today we have two Iraqi divisions, 15 Iraqi brigades and over 60 Iraqi battalions that are in the lead. This process is continuing to go forward."