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Pentagon: U.S. Facing 'Guerrilla-Type' War
New U.S. Commander in Iraq Addressed Troop Morale, Deployment Issues in First Briefing
Wednesday, July 16, 2003; 6:20 PM
The U.S. military's new commander in Iraq acknowledged today for the first time that American troops are engaged in a "classical guerrilla-type" war against remnants of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and said Baathist attacks are growing in organization and sophistication.
Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, in his first Pentagon briefing since taking charge of the U.S. Central Command last week, also addressed growing morale problems in the 3rd Infantry Division, saying soldiers quoted today on ABC News' Good Morning America questioning their mission in Iraq and calling for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation were wrong and could be disciplined.
"None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defense or the president of the United States. We're not free to do that. It's our professional code," Abizaid said, adding that he was saddened by the soldiers' comments.
But Abizaid lauded the 3rd Infantry for fighting "magnificently during the war" and promised to bring its final two brigades home by September, acknowledging that plans for an earlier return had been put on hold because of concerns about the security situation in Iraq. He said it is "very, very important" for soldiers to "know when they're coming home," and he noted that his wife cried when his son's year-long deployment to South Korea was delayed for three months.
From now on, he promised, all troops in Iraq will know what their "end dates" are.
In assessing the security situation in Iraq, Abizaid, 52, a Lebanese American who speaks fluent Arabic, expressed resolve and said improving conditions throughout the country are at odds with perceptions in Washington and reports in the Arab media.
"Look, war is a struggle of wills," he said. "You look at the Arab press, they say, 'We drove the Americans out of Beirut. We drove them out of Somalia. We'll drive them out of Baghdad.' And that's just not true. They are not driving us out of anywhere."
But at the same time, Abizaid offered an expansive and troubling assessment of conditions on the ground in Iraq. In addition to the guerrilla campaign being waged by the Baathists, he cited a resurgence of Ansar al-Islam, a fundamentalist group the State Department says is tied to al Qaeda, and the appearance of either al Qaeda or al Qaeda "look-alike" fighters on the battlefield.
The Baathist attacks, most troubling to U.S. forces, he said, are being staged by former mid-level Iraqi intelligence officials and Special Republican Guard personnel, who have organized cells at the regional level and have demonstrated the ability to attack U.S. personnel with improvised explosives and tactical maneuvers.
These Iraqi forces, Abizaid said, "are conducting what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us. It's low-intensity conflict in our doctrinal terms, but it's war however you describe it."
As such, Abizaid's remarks were in sharp contrast to those of Rumsfeld, his boss, who insisted from the same podium two and a half weeks ago that the U.S. military was not involved in a guerrilla war and said as recently as Sunday that the fighting in Iraq did not fit the definition of guerrilla war.
While Rumsfeld said on ABC News that he did not have any good evidence that the Iraqi attacks were being coordinated at the regional level, Abizaid said today that there was regional organization and said it is possible that these regional organizations could become connected throughout the country.
"The level of resistance, I'm not so sure that I would characterize it as escalating in terms of number of incidents," Abizaid told reporters. "But it is getting more organized, and it is learning. It is adapting, it is adapting to our tactics, techniques and procedures, and we've got to adapt to their tactics, techniques and procedures."
He hinted at a shift of emphasis, saying the focus on the size of the U.S. force in Iraq is misplaced as a measure of effectiveness against the Iraqi insurgents. "You all have to understand it's not a matter of boots per square [kilo]meter," he said. "Everybody wants to think that, but that's just not so. If I could do one thing as a commander right now, I would focus my intelligence like a laser on where the problem is, which is mid-level Baathist leaders."