November 08, 2004 Print This | Email This     

Terrorist Safehavens Must Be Eliminated from Iraq, Rumsfeld Says

General Casey predicts a short, tough fight for Fallujah

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Writer

Washington -- With the coalition military operation to restore law and order in the Iraqi city of Fallujah still in its infancy, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says it is impossible to have a free, democratic nation where a terrorist safehaven also exists.

Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon November 8 that it will take time to return Fallujah to the control of the interim Iraqi government, but it is obvious that terrorist safehavens cannot be allowed to persist in Iraq.

The secretary said interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Alawi tried to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Fallujah, but when his overtures failed he made the decision to go in with force.

Now Iraqi security personnel and coalition forces are working together to oust the insurgency in Fallujah. "Success in Fallujah will deal a blow to the terrorists in the country," Rumsfeld said, "and should move Iraq away from a future of violence to one of freedom and opportunity for the Iraqi people."

There are more than five Iraqi military brigades working with U.S. counterparts in the Fallujah assault, and they are being supported by British forces. A decision was made to go into the city jointly, he said, and the forces involved will also finish together.

An attempt to clean the terrorists out of Fallujah last year was not carried through to its final conclusion. Asked about the chances for success this time, Rumsfeld said he cannot imagine that the battle for a free Fallujah would stop "without being completed."

In answer to questions about risks to the remaining civilian population in Fallujah, Rumsfeld said he did not expect large numbers to be killed by U.S. military forces participating in the attacks because the soldiers are skilled in urban combat and are using precise and carefully targeted munitions.

Asked about the number of terrorists captured in the offensive so far, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said four foreign fighters had been captured. Myers, who accompanied Rumsfeld at the Pentagon press conference, was asked if success in Fallujah would put an end to what Defense Department officials call the "dead-enders" in Iraq. "Time will tell," he responded, and then went on to say: "This will not be the last use of force in Iraq to rid Iraq of the former regime elements and the foreign fighters who do not want Iraq to be successful." He suggested that there will be other, less dramatic opportunities to put down insurgent forces in other locations after Fallujah is opened up.

But disrupting a major safehaven for former regime elements and foreign fighters, including Abu Mussib al-Zarqawi and his followers, "will be a significant event," Myers said. Even if some of them slip away and can fight from other locations, he said, the offensive will take its toll on their ability to function.

Success in Iraq requires security, political and economic components that Myers said need to move "forward in a synchronized way." Security will allow voting to take place in the scheduled January elections, and economic development will prosper in a secure environment, making it more difficult for terrorists to find new recruits.

U.S. Army General George Casey, commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq, provided a tactical operational update of the fighting in Fallujah from his vantage point in Baghdad in advance of the Rumsfeld-Myers press conference. He acknowledged that the offensive in Fallujah will be "a tough fight" and one that he fully expects will continue over several days.

Casey said he expects the outer fringe of the insurgency will give way quickly, making way for a major confrontation in the city's center. "We expect them to come at us with car bombs," he said of insurgent tactics, and he said that there have been reports that Fallujah's streets have been rigged with improvised explosive devices.

On the potential risk to Fallujah's citizens, Casey said a state of emergency has already been declared. Citizens have been told to stay indoors, observe the curfew and not stand in front of windows. The military is doing its part by conducting strikes only against valid military targets, he said.

Casey also said there will likely be a mixed presence (U.S, Iraqi and other nations) of coalition forces needed in Fallujah for awhile, even after the military operation concludes. He said he does not anticipate the need for increased numbers of U.S. military forces.

Former regime elements who are challenging authority pose "the greatest threat" to accomplishing Iraqi government and coalition strategic objectives, Casey said, so the plan is to disrupt their activities so that "they cannot sustain the levels of violence that we're facing right now" when it is time for the January elections.

Even while the counterinsurgency operations continue in Iraq, Casey said, training of Iraqi forces must continue at a fast pace. The number of Iraqi Army battalions jumped from six in October to 12 currently, he said, and by January there will be 27 battalions. There are now 40 Iraqi National Guard units, and the commander said there will five more by January.

Casey also pointed to some 800 economic development projects that are under way in Iraq, representing a $2.5 billion investment. "That's putting more people to work, getting people a paycheck, and giving them less incentive to join up with the insurgents," he said.

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