The commander of U.S. forces south of Baghdad says more fighting and more casualties are ahead in the coming months, as the U.S. surge of forces is completed and clashes with insurgents increase. The officer spoke Friday, after more than 100 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq in April, including 13 of his own, making it the deadliest month so far this year for U.S. forces. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Speaking from Iraq on a video link, Major General Rick Lynch said his forces are moving to eliminate insurgent sanctuaries, and the insurgents are counter-attacking just as frequently.
He says the pace will increase even more when he receives the rest of the additional forces he is to get as part of the U.S. troop surge President Bush announced in January.
"We're going to take the fight to them," said General Lynch. "When these surge units get on the ground, we're going to move to control those sanctuaries. But that's going to come at [some] cost. He's not going to give those sanctuary areas up without a fight. So there's a fight that's fixin' to happen in those sanctuary areas."
General Lynch says that means more casualties.
"Over time, especially as we continue to put our forces in areas in which they have never operated, we can expect continued casualties," he said.
General Lynch says Iraqi forces are playing a large role in the fighting in his area, and another general reported on Thursday that 300 Iraqi troops were killed in action throughout the country in April.
General Lynch says he expects to have all the additional forces for his region by mid-June, and he says his mission is to prevent both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias from using the area south of Baghdad as a staging ground for attacks on the capital.
He also says he has seen evidence of fighting among the various armed groups.
"We're seeing that here in Iraq," said General Lynch. "We're seeing it in my battlespace. Candidly, what we have here is a struggle for power and influence. And it's not all about Sunni violence against Shias or Shia against Sunnis. Sometimes, within the respective sects you see fighting amongst themselves."
General Lynch also reported that high-powered roadside bombs provided by Iran are killing some of his troops. He says two weeks ago, U.S. and Iraqi forces found caches of mortar systems, rockets and ammunition with Iranian markings and recent date stamps.
The general, whose previous tour in Iraq ended last June, says the new strategy focuses on providing security for ordinary Iraqis. He says that, and increased reconstruction efforts, are beginning to have an impact, although he acknowledges there is still much work to be done.
He also says insurgents are alienating many local people by bombing civilian targets, including a busload of women and children this week in the town of Mahmudiyah. He says the attack killed eight women and injured four children.