By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 6, 2007 – A premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would leave the country at the mercy of its enemies, a senior U.S. military officer said today. Thanks to surge-provided reinforcements, U.S. and Iraqi security forces participating in Operation Marne Torch are now making "significant progress" in knocking out insurgent sanctuaries located within his battle space, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multinational Division Center and the 3rd Infantry Division, said today during a satellite-carried teleconference with Pentagon reporters.
However, "it would be a mess," Lynch emphasized, if the surge forces were withdrawn as part of an early pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq before the mission is accomplished.
"Those surge forces are giving us the capability we have now to take the fight to the enemy," the general said. "The enemy only responds to force, and we now have that force."
Operation Marne Torch is one of several ongoing operations that are part of an overall offensive against insurgents in Iraq called Operation Phantom Thunder, which began June 15, once all of the surge troops were in place. President Bush directed a deployment of about 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq earlier this year as a surge of forces to assist the Iraqi government in confronting the insurgency.
Since it was launched three weeks ago, Operation Marne Torch has netted 41 enemy weapons caches and 54 improvised explosive devices, and destroyed 45 boats used by the enemy to transport personnel and ordnance across local waterways, Lynch said. About 230 enemy fighters have been detained, including 28 high-value insurgents, he added.
"We can conduct detailed kinetic strikes, we can do cordon and searches, and we can deny the enemy sanctuaries," Lynch said. "If those surge forces go away that capability goes away, and the Iraqi security forces aren't ready yet to do that (mission)."
A drawdown of U.S. forces would embolden the insurgents, Lynch said.
"You'd find the enemy regaining ground, reestablishing sanctuaries, building more IEDs (and) carrying those IEDs to Baghdad, and the violence would escalate," the general said.
Current operations are directed at knocking out Sunni-insurgent strongholds in the Tigris River valley region, including the Arab Jabour area south of Baghdad, Lynch said, adding future operations will go after Shiite-insurgent sanctuaries.
American and Iraqi troops are now manning 29 patrol bases situated across Lynch's area of operations, which is about the size of West Virginia. About 70 percent of his area has been cleared of insurgent activity, he said. And, ongoing infrastructure improvements and jobs projects also are helping to make life better for local Iraqis, Lynch said.
Iraqis in his region are fed up with insurgent-generated violence, Lynch said, noting that al Qaeda's harsh tactics in particular have backfired on the terrorist group.
Meanwhile, Lynch's soldiers and Iraqi security forces continue to make progress against insurgents.
"I've got great confidence because I've got great soldiers," Lynch said, noting that his troops remain determined to defeat the insurgents.
"They want to fight terrorists here, so they don't have to fight terrorists back home," the general said.
Lynch acknowledged the American public's impatience with the pace of securing Iraq, but he cautioned against applying arbitrary dates and timelines in gauging success in a highly variable environment.
"I now have the forces I need to conduct that mission," Lynch said. "What I can't tell you is how long it's going to take to secure the population and defeat sectarian violence.
"It's going to take as long as it takes, and you just have to be sensitive to that," he said.