Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reinforcing Anbar province

In retrospect, the idea of a draw-down in Iraq was foolish. There still are not enough troops to control Sunni dominated Anbar province -- but more are on the way. Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post has the best coverage (excerpts and my emphasis):
BAGHDAD, May 29 -- The U.S. military said Monday it was deploying the main reserve fighting force for Iraq, a full 3,500-member armored brigade, as emergency reinforcements for the embattled western province of Anbar, where a surge of violence linked to the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has severely damaged efforts to turn Sunni Arab tribal leaders against the insurgency.

The insurgents have assassinated 11 tribal leaders in the Ramadi area since the end of last year, when Sunni sheiks in the city began open cooperation with the U.S. military. That alliance was heralded by U.S. commanders as a sign of a major split between Sunni insurgents and the larger Sunni community of western Iraq.

The insurgent attacks since then have all but frozen the cooperation between Sunni tribal leaders and U.S. forces in Ramadi, local leaders say.


Last week, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad conceded, in answer to a question about Ramadi in an interview with CNN, that parts of Anbar were under insurgent control. Ramadi is the capital of the overwhelmingly Sunni province. The difficulties facing stretched-thin U.S. Marines in Ramadi suggest the continuing obstacles to a reduction of American forces in Iraq.

"We hope to get rid of al-Qaeda, which is a huge burden on the city. Unfortunately, Zarqawi's fist is stronger than the Americans'," said one Sunni sheik, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of insurgent retaliation. He was referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, an umbrella group for many of the foreign and local resistance fighters in Iraq. Local Sunni leaders often insist that the most violent insurgent attacks are by foreign fighters, not Iraqi Sunnis.

In Ramadi, "Zarqawi is the one who is in control," the sheik said, speaking to a Washington Post special correspondent in Ramadi. "He kills anyone who goes in and out of the U.S. base. We have stopped meetings with the Americans, because, frankly speaking, we have lost confidence in the U.S. side, as they can't protect us."


Gen. George W. Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has called up the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the main standby reserve force for the roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq, Maj. Todd Breasseale, a Marine spokesman in Baghdad, confirmed.

The call-up leaves a Marine Expeditionary Unit, which typically includes one combat infantry battalion and air and logistical support, in Kuwait as the only American reserve in the Iraqi theater, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said.

CNN reported last week that as many as two of the brigade's three battalions were headed to Ramadi. U.S. military officials would not comment then, citing security of any ongoing troop movements.

Breasseale confirmed Monday that the full armored brigade is headed to Anbar, where both U.S. Marines and many local tribal leaders -- particularly in Ramadi -- have appealed for more U.S. troops.


Scores of local Sunni tribal leaders turned out for a groundbreaking meeting with U.S. Marine officers in Ramadi in November. Robed sheiks and Marine officers in camouflage faced each other in a town hall, ignoring mortar rounds that insurgents lobbed at the meeting, to start talking about the first major, open cooperation between Ramadi's sheiks and U.S. forces.

But when U.S. and Iraqi forces held the first local recruiting drive for local Sunni young men in January, bombs killed more than 60 of the Sunni tribal enlistees and others. The local residents said the bombs were set by Zarqawi's group.


Marine officers on the ground have been open for more than a year now about needing more troops in Anbar, whose Sunni population, remoteness and comparative lawlessness have made it a stronghold for the insurgency. Anbar borders Syria, a conduit for some of the weapons, money and fighters.


Rumors routinely circulate of a Fallujah-style clearing operation in Ramadi. Residents say they both hope for it and fear it. The November 2004 operation in Fallujah, a largely Sunni Arab city about 35 miles west of Baghdad, involved a major deployment of troops and sometimes intense fighting with insurgents.
The New York Times coverage:
The movement of the brigade comes as several senior American officials in Iraq have begun to raise doubts about whether security conditions there will permit significant troop reductions in coming months.

"General Casey has been working with the government of Iraq, and he has asked permission to draw forward more forces that will be operating in Anbar," a senior military official said. The officials were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk officially about continuing troop movements.

The brigade comes from the Army's First Armored Division, which has been deployed in Kuwait for months as a reserve in case conditions in Iraq deteriorated. One official said the additional troops would be deployed at multiple hotspots in Anbar Province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.
The Washington Times covers something almost the same, but underplays the importance of that brigade's new role in Anbar:
U.S. troop levels in Iraq will likely stay around the 133,000 mark in the coming months even if an Army brigade or two is cut from the current number of 15 total combat brigades, defense officials say.

The officials said Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, may decide he does not need a replacement brigade for one going home. Yet the overall force level will likely stay the same because new training teams are entering the country to embed with units of the Iraq Security Force (ISF).

Gen. Casey is also periodically tapping an Army "call-forward" brigade of about 4,000 soldiers in Kuwait for periodic duty in Iraq, most recently in Baghdad. Such moves, when coupled with the influx of trainers, also increases the overall force level.
Officers in Ramadi have said that they need three brigades. This deployment gives them a little under two. Also, General Casey now has the unenviable position of a field-general lacking sufficient reserves.


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