By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
July 9, 2007 – Iraqi security forces are not yet ready to secure their country, and if U.S. troops were withdrawn too soon, violence would escalate, a top U.S. commander in the region said yesterday. "It would be a mess," Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of coalition forces operating in the region south of Baghdad, said in an interview on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer" yesterday.
"(If) those surge forces go away, that capability goes away, and the Iraqi security forces aren't ready yet to do that. If you did that, ... you'd find the enemy regaining ground, reestablishing sanctuary, building more (improvised explosive devices), carrying those IEDs in Baghdad, and the violence would escalate," Lynch said.
Despite the recent spike in violence in the region, the troop surge is having an effect in his region, Lynch said.
"We have killed 50 of the enemy. We have captured over 250 more. We have taken away 50 weapons caches. And we are having an effect. So it's going to take time for these surge units to have the effect that we want," Lynch said. "It can't happen overnight."
Lynch avoided putting a timeline on combat operations in the area, saying there are too many factors outside of U.S. control. He said it would take through September to clear just his battle space.
After the area is cleared, though, additional troops are required to hold the area to prevent re-entry by insurgents. How long U.S. troops are there is dependent on how fast the Iraqis can build and train their force.
"The holding piece is going to take a lot of time. We have got to have a sustained security presence so that the enemy can't just come back," Lynch said. "People keep wanting to put a timeframe on this. It's just not possible. There are too many conditions that we don't control. "
The commander called the Iraqi security forces in his region "quite capable (and) very confident" with great leadership. But, Lynch said, he needs as many as two more brigades' worth of Iraqi forces.
The additional troops in his region also are needed to help stop the flow of Iranian-manufactured munitions into Iraq. Nine U.S. soldiers in Lynch's region have been killed and 45 others have been wounded by Iranian-made explosively formed projectiles, Lynch said.
"I'm not sure who it is in Iran, but I know Iran is causing problems in my battle space," Lynch said. "I've had 32 EFP strikes. We can trace those back to Iran, no doubt. And we've got weapons caches we're finding with brand-new Iranian munitions -- rockets, hand grenades -- just yesterday."
The 3rd Infantry Division commander called the insurgency an evil, vicious enemy who doesn't care who it kills in the path of striking at U.S. troops. He called for patience as the U.S. military strategy takes time to work.
"We're trying to take away his munitions. We're trying to take away his leaders. We're trying to take away his training opportunities. And in time, that will have effect on his ability to take truck bombs into Baghdad or anywhere else in our battle space," Lynch said.