By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 5, 2007 – People in Baghdad are being tortured and killed by "death squads" and a precipitous withdrawal from Baghdad at this point would result in "a significant increase in violence," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. "These are targeted killings by relatively small numbers of people in an attempt to stoke the sectarian violence and, frankly, to try and make the Baghdad Security Plan fail by hampering the reconciliation process," Gates said.
In a joint briefing at the Pentagon, the defense secretary and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described current U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Operation Fardh al-Qanoon, an Iraqi phrase that means "Enforcing the Law," is under way in Iraq. It includes an initiative to put five additional U.S. brigades into and around the Iraqi capital.
When asked if military leaders were satisfied with the rate of brigade deployment into Baghdad, Pace said, "This is very much on track. The Marines are now all in al Anbar." "
The third of five Army brigades is moving into Baghdad. "It'll be fully operational within the next week to 10 days," Pace said.
Around April 15, the fourth Army brigade is scheduled to deploy to Kuwait, followed by the fifth brigade around May 15, the general said. "So this has been on plan to be fully up in all categories in early June," he said.
"The plan from the very beginning has been to move approximately a brigade a month into Baghdad," Gates said. "One of the principal reasons that it was not possible to accelerate it was that we want to make sure that every single one of those brigades is adequately trained before they actually enter Iraq."
Despite an increase in large-scale terrorist attacks, the security plan is showing encouraging signs, Gates said.
"The early signs are positive," he said, but he cautioned that it's too early in the operation to predict how successful it ultimately will be.
"I think that there is a great reluctance to engage in 'happy talk' about this," Gates said. "It's a tough environment."
Echoing comments by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gates said a more accurate assessment of the plan's efficiency will emerge once the operation has had a chance to "take hold" this summer.
"General Petraeus, I think, has been very realistic in his assessments in terms of what's working and what he's happy with and what concerns him," the secretary said. "And I think we'll just have to wait several more months before we're in a position to make any real evaluation."
Speaking about the impending "spring offensive" in Afghanistan, Gates and Pace expressed some concern that violence levels would increase there as they have the past two years.
"I wanted to make sure that with our focus on Iraq, that we did not take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan," he said. "It was the reason why I extended a brigade in Afghanistan to ensure additional force would be available."
Gates added that he has been meeting with U.S. and NATO officials to discuss and coordinate efforts in Afghanistan.
"Secretary Rice and I met late yesterday afternoon and then yesterday evening with the NATO secretary-general to discuss principally Afghanistan and the need for other NATO countries that have made commitments to fulfill those commitments, opportunities for better coordination and cooperation," Gates said.
Without divulging details, Pace said NATO's commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, has begun operations that "will unfold very clearly here in the next couple days."
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