Wednesday, June 1, 2005

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

From the Miami Herald:

U.S. Army officers in the badland deserts of northwest Iraq, near the Syrian border, say they don’t have enough troops to hold the ground they take from insurgents in this transit point for weapons, money and foreign fighters.

From last October to the end of April, there were about 400 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division patrolling the northwest region, which covers about 10,000 square miles.

“Resources are everything in combat. . . . There’s no way 400 people can cover that much ground,” said Maj. John Wilwerding, of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is responsible for the northwest tract that includes Tal Afar.

“Because there weren’t enough troops on the ground to do what you needed to do, the (insurgency) was able to get a toehold,” said Wilwerding, 37, of Chaska, Minn.


In Tal Afar, the police — with only 150 officers left in what was a 600-man force — are holed up in the only remaining police station. Insurgents destroyed three others last year. To the west, the mayor and police have abandoned the town of Bi’aj. To the south, in Rawah, a recent patrol found no evidence of the mayor, police or “rule of law,” said Maj. Bryan Denny, 38, of Oxford, N.C.

Military commanders in the region said they planned to reinstall police squads and governmental leaders where possible to keep insurgents from overrunning the towns.

They’ve tried that before. U.S. forces retook Tal Afar from insurgents last September after a two-week blockade, airstrikes and intense street combat. The top American officer in the area, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, predicted then that the some 250,000 residents of Tal Afar would be back on their feet soon.

And in other news

Iraq’s prime minister asked the United Nations on Tuesday to extend its authorization for U.S. forces to stay in the country, underscoring the fragile hold of the newly elected government at a time of rising insurgent violence.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari said his government would decide the role of American and other foreign troops, a particularly sensitive issue as the new government tries to establish its legitimacy among the Iraqi people and secure the country against an entrenched insurgency while depending heavily on the U.S. military.

Jaafari said he would like the U.N. Security Council to extend Resolution 1546, which authorizes the U.S. presence until June 8. He made his comments while addressing the Iraqi National Assembly.

“It is true that [the multinational forces] are not Iraqi forces but their task is to secure the country under the Iraqi will and Iraqi timetable,” Jaafari said after the assembly session. “So if Iraqis choose, through their elected government, that they need extension [of Resolution 1546] in order to improve the security situation, the decision will be Iraqi.”

I’m having these flashbacks to news stories out of Saigon in 1967…