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May 31, 2005 3:00 AM

U.S. Army officers cite lack of troops in key region

U.S. Army officers in the badland deserts of northwest Iraq, near the Syrian border, say they dont 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 ... theres 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 werent 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. During the past two months, Army commanders, trying to pacify the area, have had to move in some 4,000 Iraqi soldiers; about 2,000 more are on the way. About 3,500 troops from the 3rd ACR took control of the area this month, but officers said they were still understaffed for the mission. Theres 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; everybodys got their finger in a dike.

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