More Troops Needed in Northern Iraq

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U.S. military commanders in the north have indicated they need more troops-in Mosul and in Nineveh, Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces-to fight increasing violence there. Military operations have forced al Qaeda in Iraq out of the south and west of the country, and the insurgents have migrated north to try to seek sanctuary and establish a foothold.

American and Iraqi troops have been able to hold off the insurgents and keep them off balance by pursuing and capturing their leaders and by cutting off their financing, but the troops have not been able to reduce the rate of attacks in Mosul. While attacks have decreased in Baghdad and Anbar Province, the level of violence has been steady in Mosul for the last year.

Commanders in the northern part of Iraq, which stretches from Baghdad east to Iran and north to the Syrian and Turkish borders, propose the return of two Iraqi battalions that moved to Baghdad in 2007. The Iraqi troops would allow for the establishment of outposts in violent parts of the city.

Additional U.S. troops could be shifted to the north from more secure areas. Commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, pointed to a 60 percent decline in violence in Iraq over the last six months and noted that the reduction enables him to adjust forces to address problem areas. Col. Tony Thomas, deputy commander of the 1st Armored Division, the unit responsible for northern Iraq, said, "We think it may be time to shift forces."

Secretary Gates acknowledged that "much remains to be done" in Iraq, but was cautiously optimistic. "More than ever, I believe that the goal of a secure, stable and democratic Iraq is within reach."

Afghanistan Requests Assistance. Escalating levels of violence in Afghanistan have prompted its military to ask secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates for more trainers and equipment for its army. During his visit in December, secretary Gates said the United States has allocated funds to equip and train Afghan security forces and called for NATO partners to fulfill their commitments. He assured Afghanistan's top army chief that the United States is looking for ways to expedite shipment of small arms and mortars.

According to Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general of Combined security Transition CommandAfghanistan, the Pentagon is working to deliver 60,000 M16 rifles, with 5,000 delivered in December and another 10,000 to arrive each month after that. Plans also include delivery, in the near future, of 34 helicopters, which will ease stress on U.S. forces that currently must transport Afghan troops.

Secretary Gates expressed concern over the growing terrorism in Afghanistan; 2007 was the most violent year since the invasion in 2001, with unprecedented casualties among U.S. troops. One reason for the rise in numbers might be an escalation in al Qaeda activity, and Army commanders are alert to that possibility. secretary Gates attributed the higher figure, in part, to the military's more aggressive efforts in Taliban-controlled areas of the country; he pointed to the success of the counterinsurgency effort in Khowst Province, on the Pakistan border.

Army commanders have urged heeding and encouraging local leaders as a way to enlist the cooperation of citizens and turn them from extremism. That technique has helped reduce violence in Khowst, a province that was once a hotbed of insurgency. Military operations coupled with economic and civic development have been so successful that secretary Gates called the province "a model of concerted counterinsurgency effort..."

Afghanistan Rotations. The Department of Defense announced in December that the 53rd and 48th Brigade Combat Teams have been alerted they will deploy in the summer of 2009 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to continue ongoing operations and training of the Afghan National Security Forces.

The 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a National Guard unit from Georgia, will concentrate on training Afghan National security Forces. …