|General Richard Myers|
Air Force General Richard Myers said Iraqi insurgents and Islamic extremists in Iraq and Taleban and al-Qaida remnants in Afghanistan would increase their attacks against U.S. and coalition forces and local populations as major political events draw closer in each country.
"As we have seen consistently in Afghanistan and Iraq, as you get close to elections, those who do not want free and fair elections in Afghanistan and Iraq you see an increase in the violence. That's just been the typical pattern and we anticipate that in Afghanistan, and I would anticipate that as we go towards the constitutional referendum in October in Iraq," he said.
In Iraq, a constitutional assembly is drafting the country's new constitution, which will be voted on in October and will set the stage for elections under that new constitution for a permanent government in December of this year. In Afghanistan the Karzai government has set national and provincial elections for mid-September.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that extremists would like to de-rail both these events because they know that the success of the political process will mean their defeat.
To counter the threat in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is re-deploying the 82nd Airborne Division, while U.S. troop levels in Iraq are expected to remain steady.
General Myers said U.S. and coalition forces are making progress in training Iraqi security forces and cited some recent developments.
"In recent months two Iraqi brigades have taken over responsibility for two sectors in Iraq, one in North Baghdad and one near Kirkuk," added Mr. Myers. "And just yesterday the El Salvadorian Army turned over control of a section in the central-south area of Iraq to an Iraqi Army battalion. This is significant because it demonstrates that yet another unit is capable of planning, and executing and sustaining operations with some level of coalition support."
General Myers said a major challenge in Iraq remains the porous border between Iraq and Syria. The majority of the foreign fighters in Iraq are believed to have come across the Syrian border. General Myers said the U.S. and coalition forces are working with the Iraqi government to strengthen border security on the Iraqi side but that Syria needs to do more.
"It is pretty well understood that a lot of the foreign fighters that come into Iraq come in through Syria," he explained. "So they are getting some help in Syria, some facilitation to get through Damascus and out to the border area. That is a problem that needs to be dealt with by Syria as well. This is not to say the Syrian government is sponsoring it, but in a society such as Syria there is a good chance they know what is going on."
In the end, though, General Myers conceded that, when people are willing to commit suicide attacks and target defenseless civilians, there is only so much the military can do to stop them. Instead, he said, a political solution is the only solution to the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.