General seeks more troops

U.S. officer in area northeast of Baghdad has security concerns

May 12, 2007|By Aamer Madhani | Aamer Madhani,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- With the final troops in President Bush's buildup flowing into Iraq, the U.S. military commander overseeing much of the north-central part of the country said yesterday that he doesn't have enough troops for the mission in restive Diyala province.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon said he has asked Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, for more troops to help pacify the increasingly violent al-Qaida hotbed northeast of Baghdad.

"I do not have enough soldiers right now in Diyala province to get that security situation moving," Mixon said. "We have plans to put additional forces in that region."

Mixon, who spoke to Pentagon reporters through a video conference from a U.S. base in the northern city of Tikrit, would not say how many more troops he needs. But he said he recently proposed a plan to Odierno to bolster troop levels. Odierno told him that additional troops would be sent to Diyala as they become available, Mixon said.

"I believe once we see those plans through, that the situation in Diyala will get to the level that we want it to get to, and that's that the Iraqi security forces can begin to take responsibility for the security in that area," said Mixon, who commands a large swath of northern Iraq, including Diyala.

The U.S. military is facing increased scrutiny from congressional Democrats over whether sending nearly 30,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq is having a significant effect. Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, has promised to report to Congress in September on how the security plan is working.

Mixon would not comment directly on whether he thought the additional troops would be needed into next year, as some commanders have predicted, but he warned against a quick pullout.

"You know, we just can't think about pulling out of here just like that," he said. "We need to have a long-term commitment in some form or fashion to ensure security in the region."

Diyala, which has long been a hotbed of al-Qaida activity, has become more violent since President Bush announced in January that he would send more troops to Iraq, primarily to Baghdad and the western Anbar province. Mixon has about 3,500 troops in Diyala.

The past week has been particularly difficult in Diyala. The U.S. military announced yesterday that an American soldier was killed Thursday in an explosion in the province. On Tuesday a U.S. soldier was killed and four others were wounded in an attack there. And six U.S. soldiers and an embedded Russian journalist were killed Sunday when a huge bomb struck the vehicle they were traveling in.

The increase in violence has been spurred by a recent increase in the U.S. military's operations, but Mixon said another factor is that insurgents from Baghdad are melting into Diyala as more U.S. troops are deployed to the capital.

Mixon criticized the provincial and national governments, saying that the Iraqis have proved to be largely ineffective. He said the government has been too slow in providing logistical support needed for security.

The general said he is particularly concerned about the ability of Iraqi security forces to protect vital oil pipelines that snake across his area of operation.

"Results in these particular organizations have been marginal, at best, since my arrival," Mixon said. "Our efforts to train and build capacity for them is limited, and the national ministries must step up and do their job so that Iraqis can have basic services at the grass-roots level."

Meanwhile, twin suicide car bombers struck police checkpoints at bridges in a predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 23 people hours after U.S. raids on car bomb networks around the capital killed four suspected insurgents.

The blasts underscored the difficulty U.S.-led forces are having in trying to stem car bombings, which have increased in the capital since the U.S.-led security crackdown began 12 weeks ago.

Aamer Madhani writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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