The second ranking U.S. commander in Iraq says the coalition offensive that began a month ago is making "significant progress" toward establishing security, but he said he will not be able to assess whether that progress will be long-term until later in the year. Speaking via satellite from Iraq to reporters at the Pentagon, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno also warned against the "danger and risk" of any rapid strategy change, which some members of Congress would like to see. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
General Odierno acknowledged there is much work still to be done, but he pointed to advances by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad and surrounding areas, including increased cooperation from local tribes and militias, as evidence that the offensive he commands is making progress.
"After one month [of] increased operations and patrols, we are now beginning to feel the full effects. Cache by cache, operation by operation, we are diminishing the enemy's ability to operate. There will come a time when we will truly be able to leave the responsibilities of security to the Iraqis. But until that day comes, there is still work to be done. With the progress that has been made over the last few months of this operation, that day may not be too far into the future," he said.
General Odierno said the key is to give the operation more time, something many members of Congress do not want to do. The general's views will be an important part of the next Iraq progress report, due to the Congress by mid-September. But he says it won't be until later in the year that he will be able to make a full assessment of the current strategy and security operation.
"In order to do a good assessment I need at least until November to do that assessment. Our trends are all going in the right direction. If I have 45 more days of looking at those trends, I'll be able to make a bit more accurate assessment if it's something that we think is going to continue, or something that was just a blip. And then, I would argue that in order to see if it's a long term [trend], we would still need a little bit more time," he said.
The White House and the Pentagon launched a new effort to convince members of Congress of that on Thursday. A defense department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said about 90 members of Congress came to the Pentagon Thursday morning for a classified briefing, via satellite, by General Odierno's boss, General David Petraeus, and by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.
The defense official says the legislators asked about the impact of a withdrawal starting later this year, and about progress by the Iraqi government and security forces. The official says General Petraeus spoke about the tactical implications of an early withdrawal, and Ambassador Crocker told the members not to expect dramatic progress on Iraqi political issues by September. The official would not provide further details.