The director of operations for the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for conducting the war in Iraq, says in spite of continuing attacks the effort to defeat the insurgency is making progress. In an interview, Brigadier General Douglas Lute said key aspects are the development of Iraq's security forces and increased cooperation from ordinary Iraqis.
Speaking from Central Command headquarters in Florida, General Lute said the two things that would help him most in fighting the insurgency would be continuing progress in the Iraqi political process and the development of more, and more capable, Iraqi security forces.
He says more Iraqis are providing information about insurgent operations. But further demonstrations by the new Iraqi National Assembly that it is proceeding to write a new constitution and govern the country would encourage still more Iraqis to provide information. And the general says the new Iraqi security forces are in the best position to take advantage of that.
"As we develop Iraqi security forces, we believe that these local forces are best suited to get that sort of human intelligence from the local people," he said. "Our view is that the long term investment that makes the most sense is to invest in the Iraqi security forces."
General Lute would not comment on new intelligence teams being deployed by the U.S. military, designed to improve the amount, quality and timeliness of information about the insurgency that gets to military commanders. But he said no foreign soldier will ever have access to the same quality of information as local soldiers and police officers will.
The U.S. Defense Department says it has trained and equipped more than 140,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers, but officials acknowledge most of them have only limited capabilities. In the interview, General Lute was asked how many of the new Iraqi units are now capable of acting independently against the insurgents.
"I don't have confidence that we have many units," he said. "But let me just put this in perspective for you. A year ago we had none. Today, we have at least the building blocks, the fundamental building blocks of a capable Iraqi force structure."
General Lute says the most important thing now is to build an Iraqi chain of command, and to instill confidence among the Iraqi officers about one another's capabilities.
Meanwhile, the insurgents continue to attack, with several deadly bombings this week. General Lute, the Central Command's chief of operations, says that is to be expected, even as progress is made.
"These things never move in a straight line, which would lead us to be able to make solid predictions into the future," he said. "All conflicts, but perhaps most of all insurgencies, tend to deal in two steps forward, one step back. They wax and wane between peaks and valleys of activities. But the general trend lines, especially since the 30 January elections are moving in the right direction."
General Lute says the insurgents in Iraq are launching fewer attacks since the election. He says the insurgents have tried some larger scale, more sophisticated attacks, like the strike at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad this month, but he says they have not been very successful. He also says the U.S. military has a good understanding of who the insurgents are, what they want and where they get their money. But he says it is much more difficult to come up with firm information on how many insurgents there are, and where they are - what he calls "targetable information."