U.S. generals question whether Iraqis can hold gains

Monday, June 25, 2007

BAQOUBA, Iraq -- The U.S. commander of a new offensive north of Baghdad, reclaiming insurgent territory day by day, said Sunday his Iraqi partners may be too weak to hold onto the gains.

The Iraqi military does not even have enough ammunition, said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek.

His counterpart south of Baghdad seemed to agree, saying U.S. troops are too few to garrison the districts newly rid of insurgents. "It can't be coalition (U.S.) forces. We have what we have. There's got to be more Iraqi security forces," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch.

The two commanders spoke after a deadly day for the U.S. military in Iraq. At least 12 soldiers were killed Saturday from roadside bombings and other causes, leaving at least 31 dead for the week.

In the U.S. offensive dubbed Operation Arrowhead Ripper, some 10,000 American troops were in their sixth day of combat to drive Sunni al-Qaida militants from their stronghold in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Bednarek said U.S. forces now control about 60 percent of the city's west side, but "the challenge now is, how do you hold onto the terrain you've cleared? You have to do that shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi security forces. And they're not quite up to the job yet."

Lynch was asked at a news conference whether he thought Iraqi troops would be able to secure his gains.

"There's not enough of them, there's not enough of them," Lynch replied. "So I believe the Iraqi government has got to work to create more Iraqi security forces."

-- The Associated Press

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