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.Yesterday, President Bush said he was pleased with the progress being made there and that the new government will halt the deadly insurgency.
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. ***
"There's simply not enough forces here," said a high-ranking U.S. Army officer with knowledge of the 3rd ACR. "There are not enough to do anything right; everybody's got their finger in a dike."
The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concern that he'd be reprimanded for questioning American military policy in Iraq. ***
Last week, when the ramp of an armored vehicle began to open outside the house near Rawah, an insurgent shot a rocket-propelled grenade at it and other insurgents let loose with machine-gun fire.
The 25th Infantry soldiers responded first with .50-caliber machine-gun fire and then two shoulder-launched rockets. Four insurgents - three from Saudi Arabia and one from Morocco - were killed, Maj. Denny said. After the house caught fire, four more insurgents surrendered. They were from Syria, Jordan and Algeria.
"They'd come to Iraq to kill Americans; they were looking for jihad" - or holy war - Denny said.
Asked if he planned on pacifying Rawah - a town of some 50,000 with no police or mayor - Denny shook his head.
"We could go in and clear them all out tomorrow, but if we left and didn't install law there, it would happen again," he said. "You need an Iraqi army battalion to hang out in Rawah."
And that, he said, isn't going to happen anytime soon.
"I'm pleased with the progress," Bush told a news conference in the White House Rose Garden. "I am pleased that in less than a year's time there is a democratically elected government in Iraq, there are thousands of Iraqi soldiers trained and better equipped to fight for their own country." ***And that isn't going to happen anytime soon.
"I believe that the Iraqi government's going to be plenty capable of dealing with them (insurgents), and our job is to help train them so that they can," Bush said.
"And when they're ready, we'll come home."