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Defense Department Report, November 22: Iraq Operations

22 November 2005

Precipitous pullout of U.S. forces would be destabilizing, general says

The commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq says a precipitous pullout of the U.S. military there would be destabilizing.

Army Lieutenant General John Vines, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, briefed reporters at the Pentagon via videoconference November 22.  He was asked to comment on recent statements by Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha urging the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Iraqi security forces are able to conduct operations in a large portion of their area with only limited coalition support, but "they do require our support at this time," he said.  That support likely will be diminished as Iraqi forces become stronger, "but a precipitous pullout, I believe, would be destabilizing,” Vines said.  He declined to discuss a withdrawal timetable, saying that any future reduction of U.S. forces would be "driven by conditions on the ground.”

INITIAL INDICATORS FAVORABLE FOR OPERATION “STEEL CURTAIN”

Vines said that a current operation in northwestern Iraq, named Steel Curtain, has accomplished most of its goals except for some remaining reconstruction and repair of damage caused by insurgents and recent combat.  He said coalition forces found that foreign fighters tried to create a sanctuary in the area but did not succeed.

Early indications are that “we have killed a large portion of the leadership of the foreign fighters and terrorists,” and the area no longer is a line of communication or transit for them, he said.  Moreover, the Iraqi army has established permanent bases in cities near the Iraq-Syria border and is now “an enduring presence” in areas where they had not been previously, he said.

“We believe that that will provide for the stability and security of those areas, as well as areas to the east,” Vines said.  “So the initial indications are that it was very successful.”

COALITION FORCES TARGET FOREIGN TERRORISTS, NOT SUNNIS

As growing numbers of Sunni Iraqis choose “the ballot box” rather than violence to bring about change, coalition forces have determined that “Sunnis, as a group, cannot and should not and must not be the targets of military operations,” Vines said.  Instead, he said, the coalition is trying to defeat “jihadists and Islamic extremists” by preventing them from hiding among Iraqis and attacking Iraqi civilians and coalition forces.

As a result, coalition forces are seeing "significantly" fewer foreign fighters in a variety of venues -- perhaps "less than half as many as they were in the summer," Vines said.

For more information about U.S. policy, see Iraq Update.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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