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Reducing troops in Iraq a 'giant step backwards'

A senior US commander said Friday any reduction of US troops in his area of Iraq this year would be "a giant step backwards," allowing insurgents to regain sanctuaries wrested from them in hard fighting.

Army Major General Rick Lynch, who commands a division in volatile central Iraq in Baghdad's southern outskirts, said Iraqi security forces will not be ready to take over security in the area before the spring or summer of next year.

"In my battlespace, if soldiers were to leave,...having fought hard for that terrain, having denied the enemy their sanctuaries, what would happen is the enemy would come back," he said via video link from Iraq.

"He'd start building the bombs again, he'd start attacking the locals again, he'd start exporting that violence to Baghdad. We would take a giant step backwards," he said.

Lynch's comments came a day after Senator John Warner, an influential Republican, appealed to President George W. Bush to begin at least a token withdrawal of US forces by Christmas.

The Los Angeles Times reported that General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected to advise Bush to reduce US force levels in Iraq next year by almost half.

It said his recommendations reflect the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that keeping in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military.

But Lynch said he was not concerned that the army was near the breaking point, saying soldiers continued to re-enlist despite multiple deployments.

"We fought hard with major cost to human life to deny the enemy those sanctuaries. Now we're sitting on those sanctuaries.

"And only when the Iraqi security forces can come forward and say, '0kay, here I am. I'm trained and ready. I'm the Iraqi army. I'm the Iraqi police,' can I turn those sanctuaries over. And that's not going to happen between now and Christmas," he said.

Lynch added, however, that "as we work our way into the spring and summer of next year ... I can see how I can transition pieces of my battlespace to the Iraqi security forces."

Reducing troops in Iraq a 'giant step backwards' -  Source

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