BAGHDAD, Iraq—The commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq's Anbar province said Tuesday that he had enough troops for his mission—training and recruiting Iraqi forces—but not enough to defeat the insurgency.
Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer spoke in response to a report from a senior Marine intelligence officer, Col. Peter Devlin, that said the political and security situation in Anbar had deteriorated so much that only more aid and another division of troops—about 10,000 to 15,000—could turn things around. The Washington Post on Monday was the first to report on Devlin's confidential report, which was prepared in August.
The intelligence report and Zilmer's comments were some of the first times that the military has said publicly that more troops would be needed to defeat the insurgency in Anbar, the volatile province in western Iraq that's the heart of the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency.
The Bush administration has said that American commanders in Iraq have never asked for more troops and would get them if they did. Privately, however, many U.S. officers say their troops are stretched too thin, not only in Anbar but also in Baghdad and elsewhere.
Zilmer also said that progress on political stability was being made in some places in Anbar and that development was helping in the fight against the insurgents.
He acknowledged that he'd need more troops if his mission were changed to a direct battle with the insurgency, which includes al-Qaida, Sunni Arab nationalists, remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime and competing local tribes.
"I've got the force levels I need right now," Zilmer said. "If there is seen a larger role for coalition forces to win that insurgency fight, then it's going to change the metrics of what we need."
Anbar is a desolate, sparsely populated province that extends from the city of Fallujah to the borders of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Some critics have suggested that Anbar be written off and the 30,000 coalition troops in the province moved to Baghdad or Mosul.
Zilmer said the mission to develop Iraqi security forces was progressing, and he pointed to functioning governments in Fallujah and the western town of Qaim, on the border with Syria, as places in Anbar where some government stability is being restored. He said "the atmospherics" had changed in the last couple of months in towns such as Haditha so that recruiting could be stepped up for police and other security forces.
"Certainly there is an enemy out here, certainly there is a war out here and it is not without its perils and not without its dangers. The things we think are important in terms of turning the insurgency, I believe we are making progress on," he said.
Zilmer said he concurred with the classified assessment, which he described as deliberately frank. But he said the report was an intelligence tool intended to focus on the causes and strengths of the insurgency. By design, it didn't address what Zilmer said were the positive developments in Anbar.
He acknowledged an al-Qaida presence in the insurgency, but said local tribal conflicts also contributed to continued violence in the region. He said the tribes appeared to be waiting out the final results of the struggling national government.
"Once the people have the confidence in their government and once the people see they have a bridge to Baghdad, that's going to be a helpful event that will erode the causes for the insurgency," he said in a teleconference from his headquarters in Fallujah.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.