By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
July 13, 2007 – Now at full strength, the U.S. troop surge in Iraq is showing "definitive progress" and the number of forces serving in Iraq's Multinational Division North could be halved by summer 2009, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon said today. A reduction of U.S. forces under the general's command could begin as early as January 2008, he told Pentagon reporters via videoconference.
Mixon, commander of both Multinational Division North and the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division, is responsible for six Iraqi provinces in northern Iraq, including the city of Baqubah -- site of the ongoing Operation Arrowhead Ripper.
He said he has given Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander, Multinational Corps Iraq, a plan indicated a possible reduction of force in Multinational Division North during 2008.
Mixon said the current debate over troop withdrawal should revolve around reaching a strategic "end state."
"It seems to me that we should first decide what we want the end state to be in Iraq, and how is that end state important to the United States of America, to this region and to the world, and then determine how we can reach that end state, and how much time that will take," he said. "To me, that seems to be the most important thing, because there will be consequences of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq.
"It cannot be a strategy based on, 'Well, we need to leave,'" he added. "That's not a strategy, that's a withdrawal."
U.S. forces that remain in the region after a reduction could focus on training and assisting their Iraqi counterparts as needed, Mixon said.
"Over time, in a very methodical and well thought out way," he said, Multinational Division North could be drawn down to "a minimum force that would continue to work with the Iraqi forces in a training and assistance mode, have the capability to react and assist the Iraqi if required, and provide them those capabilities that they don't have, like attack aviation, Air Force fixed-wing support, and medical support," he said.
Speaking about Iraq's Nineva province, the general said the provincial government and security forces there continue to grow and improve. Mixon said he has observed the 2nd and 3rd Iraqi Army Division and Iraqi police providing security to provincial residents requiring scant coalition assistance.
"Based on this assessment, I have recommended that Nineva province go to provincial Iraqi control in August," he said. Though a handover to the provincial government is a sign of progress, Mixon added that it alone won't usher in a reduction of U.S. troops, who will continue to partner with Iraqi security forces there, he said.
As part of the troop surge, which reached full strength in mid-June, Mixon received two brigades based out of Fort Lewis, Wash. The general credits the additional forces with helping to improve security in Diyala province, and cited Operation Arrowhead Ripper that was launched last month.
"Operation Arrowhead Ripper kicked off on June 19 with the arrival of 3/2 Stryker Brigade and will continue until Baqubah is secure and the government center there is functioning," he said. "We have had to clear numerous complex obstacles, including 24 houses booby-trapped with explosives ... and 100 other types of improvised explosive devices."
In the ongoing operation, troops are clearing Baqubah's city blocks in an "intentionally slow" fashion to reduce the number of casualties. To date, coalition and Iraqi security forces have killed more than 90 al Qaeda operatives, discovered 45 weapons and munitions caches and detained about 130 suspected al Qaeda operatives, Mixon said. During raids in Western Baqubah neighborhoods, troops also have uncovered al Qaeda safe houses, torture houses, medical clinics and bomb-making factories.
Local leaders, tribal sheikhs and the Western Baqubah's citizens are cooperating with combined forces, providing them valuable information about al Qaeda, Mixon said.
"These people are coming forward because they have increased confidence in their security forces and they are simply tired of al Qaeda dominating their lives and terrorizing their neighborhoods, as they have done over the last several months," he said.
Mixon specified that al Qaeda operatives in his area of responsibility primarily are Sunni Iraqis, some of whom received weapons and explosives training as members of the former Iraqi regime or army. The 1920s Revolution, composed "principally former Ba'athists" and others who oppose the new Iraqi government, is one of the multiple groups comprising the greater insurgency, he said.
Listing signs of progress in Baqubah, Mixon said Iraqi forces are beginning to take responsibility for security, and that a "small influx" of residents are returning to the city which they had previously fled. The city's municipal employees also are working to repair the water and power infrastructure, the general said.
"We still have a long way to go in Baqubah and Diyala," he said, "but with the influence of al Qaeda diminished, the security situation will now allow Iraqi security forces and government officials to re-establish basic securities for the citizens of Baqubah."