General Describes Remaining Terror Threat in Iraq
By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010 Though American combat operations in Iraq have ceased, the fighting there is far from over, as terrorist groups remain a threat, a top U.S. officer there said yesterday.
Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, director of strategic effects for U.S. Forces Iraq, discussed ongoing stability operations in Iraq, and how Iraq will continue to ward off terrorists within its borders, in a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable.
Operation New Dawn, the new mission in Iraq following cessation of combat operations at the end of August, turns the focus from fighting insurgents to offering assistance to the Iraqi government when requested. Currently, Buchanan said, 47,000 to 49,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq.
“Under stability operations, U.S. Forces Iraq has three major tasks,” Buchanan said. “The first task is to advise, train, assist and equip the Iraqi security forces. Our second task is to continue to conduct partnered counterterrorism operations. And our third task is to support and protect civilian workers from the United Nations and the U.S. mission in Iraq, the U.S. embassy, as they build civil capacity throughout the provinces.”
Buchanan said there are still insurgent threats in the country from a number of known terrorist groups, including Ansar al-Sunnah, JRTN, the Islamic State of Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah, members of the Promised Day Brigade and al-Qaida in Iraq.
Though al-Qaida in Iraq has remained at the forefront of insurgent activity there and remains a dangerous threat, it hasn’t regained lost footing, the general said.
“Al-Qaida in Iraq continues to try to drive a wedge between the Iraqi people and their government and the security forces,” Buchanan said. “But their capabilities have been significantly degraded over the past year. In particular, [over] the past about eight months, the U.S. Forces Iraq and Iraqi security forces working together have had a significant effect on al-Qaida's networks.”
Despite recent bombings in Baghdad, Buchanan said, the level of violence has continued to decrease and now is only about 10 percent of what was going on in 2007. Though every casualty is a tragedy, he added, the numbers of people hurt and killed have dropped.
“Even if you look at the high number of casualties we had on the 29th of October, on the 31st of October, and on the 2nd of November through a number of different incidents, all involving al-Qaida, the overall number of casualties continues to be down significantly compared to where it has been in the past,” the general said.
He also acknowledged that the fight isn’t over, and won’t be any time soon, but said his experience with Iraqi military and police forces has given him “the utmost confidence in their abilities” to continue to deter insurgents.
“I think that [al-Qaida] remains determined to act,” he said. “When we, meaning the U.S. forces and Iraqi security forces, can put consistent pressure on the various parts of their network, they have not had freedom of maneuver, and have not been able to operate effectively. But I think al-Qaida remains a threat, and they will continue … into the future,” he said.