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Archive for Saturday, May 12, 2007

Regional commander seeks more troops for violent province

May 12, 2007

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U.S. deaths

As of Friday, at least 3,386 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

— The U.S. commander in northern Iraq said Friday he doesn't have enough troops for the mission in increasingly violent Diyala province.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon also said Iraqi government officials are not moving fast enough to provide the "most powerful weapon" against insurgents - a government that works and supplies services for the people.

Mixon commands the area that includes Diyala province, north of Baghdad. It was a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency before the start of the Baghdad security crackdown and has worsened since militants fled there to avoid the increased U.S.-led operations that started in the capital in February.

His comments on the Iraqi government were unusually candid and in keeping with the sentiment in Congress and among some administration officials as well as an American electorate becoming ever more impatient with the war.

Mixon already has received extra troops, but violence in Diyala is on the rise, he said, both because more militants have moved in and because coalition forces are taking the offensive.

"We are sure there are elements of both Sunni extremists and Shia extremists that have moved out of Baghdad and relocated into not only Diyala province, but also into Salah ad Din province," he said.

The U.S. is taking increasing casualties in Diyala. One soldier was killed Thursday from an explosion during combat operations in the province, one was killed and four others were wounded Tuesday in a shooting attack, and six U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday when a massive bomb destroyed their vehicle.

"I do not have enough soldiers right now in Diyala province to get that security situation moving," Mixon said. "We have plans to put additional forces in that region."

He declined to give details but said Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, is planning to send more forces.

"I laid out a plan for General Odierno on the numbers of forces that I would need," Mixon told Pentagon reporters by video conference from Iraq. "We have made progress : we have taken terrain back from the enemy. General Odierno intends to give me additional forces as they become available."

Additional troops have been flowing into Iraq for months as part of President Bush's plan to try to get a handle on violence in the 4-year-old war.

Initially, Bush ordered an extra 21,500 combat troops to the country - mainly to be used in Baghdad, but also in Anbar province. An additional 7,000 are going in support positions.

The last of five extra brigades planned in the increase is to arrive by June. There are some 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now.

Mixon has about 3,500 troops in Diyala and there are about 10,000 Iraqi soldiers and several thousand Iraqi police, with 3,000 more police approved but not yet hired and trained.

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