The other day I posted on how US military officials in Iraq were (once again) musing about the possibility of future US troop reductions – if Iraqi forces can maintain local security without an American presence.
Several senior American officers have warned in recent days that Iraqi soldiers and police are still incapable of maintaining security on their own in the most crucial areas, including Baghdad and the recently reclaimed districts around Baqouba to the north.
Iraqi forces may be able to handle security in the Kurdish north and parts of the Shiite south. But that would face huge challenges in Baghdad and surrounding provinces where Sunni insurgents are deeply entrenched. The Americans then would face the dilemma of maintaining substantial forces in Iraq for years _ perhaps a politically untenable option _ or risk the turmoil spreading to other parts of the Middle East.
“The challenge now is: How do you hold onto the terrain you’ve cleared?” said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, the operations chief of the current offensive in Baqouba, where Sunni insurgents have taken root in recent months. He said this week that U.S. forces have control of much of Baqouba.
“You have to do that shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi security forces. And they’re not quite up to the job yet,” Bednarek said.
“A lesson learned is … do not draw down too quickly when we think there’s a glimmer of success,” Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, a former battalion commander in Diyala, told reporters this week.
Pittard, who heads the day-to-day effort to train Iraqi security forces, estimated that it will take “a couple of years” before the Iraqis are ready to take full control of their own security.