Not Enough Troops To Hold Ground
June 3, 2005
U.S. Army officers in the 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.
From 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.
"Because there weren't enough troops on the ground ... 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.
"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.
The Army has no difficulty in launching large-scale operations to catch fighters, the officer said. "But when we're done, what comes next?"
Control of the area is seen as key to stemming the insurgency in the rest of Iraq.
"This town is kind of like a staging point for the rest of the country," said Capt. Geoff Mangus, 25, of Milledgeville, Ga., an Army intelligence officer in Tal Afar. "They know that weapons and foreign fighters can filter through here unscathed."
Army officials in northwest Iraq described a two-year cat-and-mouse game with insurgents who move from one outpost or town to the next, sustaining casualties but buoyed by fighters slipping across the Iraq-Syria border, which in many places isn't patrolled. From their sanctuaries in the area, the fighters then spread across the country, some volunteering to be suicide bombers. They funnel cash, arms and recruits to the insurgency, Mangus said. Repeated efforts to secure the area have failed.
In Tal Afar, the police -- with only 150 officers left in what was a 600-man force -- are holed up in the only remaining police station. To the west, the mayor and police have abandoned the town of Bi'aj. To the south, in Rawah, a recent patrol found no evidence of the mayor, police or "rule of law," said Maj. Bryan Denny, 38, of Oxford, N.C.
** An insurgent mortar barrage killed three Iraqi children and their uncle as they played together outside their Baghdad home. .** Two policemen were killed in drive-by shootings in western Baghdad's Amil district and the northern city of Samarra, police said.
** A suicide bomber attacked a line of vehicles waiting at the heavily guarded main checkpoint to Baghdad's International Airport early Wednesday, wounding 15 Iraqis.
At least 772 people have been reported killed by insurgents since Iraq's first democratically elected government was announced April 28. They include 702 Iraqi civilians and security force members, 66 U.S. military personnel, two British soldiers and two U.S. contract workers.
As of Wednesday, at least 1,663 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,273 died as a result of hostile action, according to the Defense Department.
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