Pentagon rethinks Iraq tactics
The Pentagon has ordered a comprehensive review of its Iraq strategy in the face of mounting casualties and an increasing strain on the US Army and its reserve ranks.
A retired four-star general, Gary Luck, is due to arrive in Iraq this week to conduct an "open-ended" rethink of tactics, troop levels and the training of Iraqi forces, reflecting growing concern in Washington over the resilience of the Iraqi insurgency.
"He will have a very wide canvas to draw on," a Pentagon spokesman said.
General Luck is due to report to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld within a month.
"We've always known the insurgents were going to do everything they can to disrupt the elections," said Robert Killebrew, a retired army colonel and counter-insurgency specialist. "And even if the elections are successful, it is going to go through to spring."
President Bush said of the review: "What you're beginning to see is an assessment of how to make sure our policy dovetails with the elections in the post-election period. And that's precisely why the assessment team is going to Iraq: to make sure that, at this historic moment in the history of Iraq, there is a focused, determined strategy to help the new government to stand up the forces necessary to defend themselves.
The commander of US ground forces, Lieutenant-General Thomas Metz, conceded that significant areas in four of the country's 18 provinces - Baghdad, Anbar, Nineveh and Salahadin - all Sunni areas - were not secure enough for polling stations.
A senior US officer in Baghdad warned on Friday that the violence could worsen dramatically, with the possibility of "spectacular" attacks in the days before the election.
Brigadier-General Erv Lessel said: "I think a worst case is where they have a series of horrific attacks that cause mass casualties in some spectacular fashion in the days leading up to the elections."
One of the key issues General Luck will address is the training of Iraqi forces. They represent the key to the US exit strategy, but their numbers and performance have disappointed some US commanders. More than 120,000 Iraqi troops and police have been trained. The target is 273,000.
Colonel Killebrew expressed concern at the Iraqi troops' lack of modern equipment.
"We are putting an enormous strain on the fledgling Iraqi military. I don't worry much about their training but I do fear the things that the Iraqi army urgently needs have become mired in the procurement business," he said.
But Mr Rumsfeld voiced confidence in the fledgling force. "They have a counter-terrorist unit that has been extremely successful and the numbers keep growing," he said.
"And despite the fact that they've taken some heavy losses . . . people are in line, ready to volunteer, to participate in it. And I think over time, there is no solution other than having the Iraqi security forces be responsible for Iraq's security."
The US has 150,000 soldiers in Iraq but if the insurgency continues with its current ferocity and the embryonic Iraqi forces continue to be overwhelmed by the scale of war, it will be hard to scale down its presence. Yet such high troop levels will be almost impossible to sustain without significant changes in policy.
One of the options being contemplated by the Pentagon is a permanent boost in the size of the army of 30,000 soldiers.
It is also considering longer and more frequent tours of duty for the national guard - a militia force under the control of state governments - and the army reserve, a 200,000-strong force of part-time soldiers.
Currently guardsmen and reservists can be called up for further service of two years. Proposed changes would allow the Pentagon to draft them for two-year tours of duty at a time, with no limit on the total.
- A US military panel has found Army Sergeant Tracy Perkins innocent of killing an Iraqi civilian, but guilty of assault, for having subordinates force the Iraqi off a bridge over the Tigris River. Perkins was cleared of involuntary manslaughter, but found guilty of assault and obstruction of justice. He faces 11 years in prison.
Iraqi insurgents yesterday abducted the head of the northern Salaheddin provincial council and the assistant to the provincial governor.
- Guardian, Reuters