The U.S. military is planning a series of "quick-strike" attacks all around Iraq to go after militants who evaded the big military operation of recent weeks, a top commander said Friday.
Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno also said commanders right now are planning to withdraw by August next year all troops sent as part of President Bush's buildup this year.
Military operations launched since America's troop buildup have helped coalition forces retake some territory in main population centers from extremists, he said, adding that militants have now moved to remote areas. He noted this week's devastating bomb attack in two remote northern villages that officials say killed at least 500 people.
"Due to the constant pressure and depletion of their leadership, extremists have been pushed out of many population centers and are on the move, seeking other places to operate within the country," Odierno told a Pentagon press conference by video from Baghdad.
"As a result, we are now in pursuit of al-Qaida and other extremist elements, and we'll continue to aggressively target their shrinking areas of influence," he said.
"Over the coming weeks, we plan to conduct quick-strike raids against remaining extremist sanctuaries and staging areas," Odierno said.
He also said that planning right now is for the five extra brigades of soldiers sent early this year to begin going home when their 15-month tours of duty end. The brigades arrived roughly one a month from January to June.
Asked if they would be able to leave that way starting next April, he said he was "not willing to quite say that yet" because top commander Gen. David Petraeus may decide to send replacements for some, depending on the security situation.
"Right now our plan is not to backfill (replace) those units," he said.
Odierno said there has been a shift in who is causing the most violence in Iraq. The military calculates that in July, 52 percent of the violence across the country was caused by al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents and 48 percent by Shiite extremists — compared to January when they say Sunnis and al-Qaida accounted for 70 percent.
He said that reflects both a decrease in al-Qaida's ability to conduct operations and a surge in Shia violence, with support from Iran.
The troop escalation and resulting new operations are buying time for Iraqis to try to make progress toward political reconciliation that might calm violence, but the gains can't be held indefinitely, he said.
"I do believe that it's sustainable for a period of time, but it's not a blank check, it's not for a long period of time," he said. "So there's going to have to be progress made by the Iraqi government over time."
Lawmakers have long said Iraqi officials are not taking advantage of U.S. efforts to make enough progress on reconciliation, and recent polls show the American public agrees.
General: Quick strikes planned in Iraq - Source
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