The U.S. ground forces commander in Iraq says he might need more time to assess the impact of the new security plan, beyond the September assessment President Bush and the Congress are expecting. Lieutenant General Ray Odierno made the statement Thursday during a news conference via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon. He also spoke about increased efforts to reach out to insurgent groups and a new threat some of his forces are facing as they move into new areas in and around Baghdad. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
General Odierno says the troop surge and the new approach to fighting the Iraqi insurgency are making progress, with increases in the number of coalition operations that find weapons caches, bomb factories and insurgent cells. But he also says insurgents attack every day, and he cautions against excessive optimism. The general says he might not be able to make even an initial assessment of the new strategy by September.
"The assessment might be that I need a little more time," he said. "The assessment might be [that] I've seen enough and it's effective, or I've seen enough and it's not going to be effective. Right now, if you ask me, I would tell you I'll probably need a little bit more time to do a true assessment."
The general says the last of the additional combat troops will not be in place until mid-June, and they will need considerable time after that to make any significant impact.
"In a counterinsurgency, we've quickly learned they must be immersed into the local populace," he added. "And it will take new units anywhere from 30 to 60 days to really get a feel for their sectors so they truly can have an impact on security and stability in their area."
General Odierno says he is sending more troops to Diyala Province, just north and east of Baghdad, to fight insurgents who are fleeing to that area from the capital. He says it will continue to be a tough fight in Iraq for some time.
He also reports that some units are facing a new threat, what he calls "deep-buried IEDs," large improvised explosive devices that insurgents have buried around their strongholds.
"In terms of the IEDs, the problem is they're getting bigger and bigger, and it has a lot to do [with] because we were not in these areas, so it gave them time to make bigger IEDs and bury them," he noted. "As we get more presence in these areas it will be more difficult for them to do that."
The general says those powerful bombs have increased the U.S. death toll, which rose to at least 115 in May, one of the highest U.S. monthly death tolls of the war.
General Odierno says insurgents are also targeting Iraqi security forces because they have become a bigger threat to the insurgents. He says he supports proposals to increase the size of the new Iraqi army so it is large enough to secure the country after coalition combat forces eventually withdraw.
At the same time, General Odierno says he has ordered his commanders to put more effort into contacting insurgent groups and trying to get them to stop their attacks.
"We have refocused our commanders at all levels," he explained. "I'm empowering them and trying to give them some tools to reach out because there are insurgents reaching out to us, which is the most important thing, so we want to reach back to them."
General Odierno says he believes most of the Shi'ite and Sunni insurgents in Iraq can be convinced to reconcile with the government, but not most of the insurgents affiliated with al-Qaida.
"I believe about 80 percent are reconcilable, both Jesh al-Mahdi and Sunni insurgents," he said. "I believe very few of al-Qaida are reconcilable."
General Odierno says reconciliation is essential for long-term stability in Iraq. And he says the coalition is trying to promote that, in part, through increased efforts on economic development, in addition to the security surge.