Mideast edition, Saturday, July 21, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. general in charge of Anbar province in Iraq said coalition forces have “broken the cycle of violence” in the region but still needed to extend the tours of Marines there to ensure stability.

Marine Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin told reporters Friday that since October 2006, when the number of attacks on coalition troops were at an all-time high of 70 per day, incidents of small arms fire and mortar attacks have steadily decreased.

By May, incidents had dropped to about 36 per day. In early July, there were fewer than 13 attacks per day. Typically, U.S. forces see a rise in violence there from January to October each year.

“I believe we have turned the corner in al-Anbar,” said Gaskin, commanding general of Multi-National Force–West. “The future of the province looks promising.”

But earlier this week spokesmen for the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit — 2,200 Marines conducting counterinsurgency operations in the Lake Thar region — announced that those troops had been extended for an additional 30 days, and are now due to leave Iraq at the end of September.

Asked why it is necessary to extend the Marines if the situation is so positive in Anbar, Gaskin said “the key to this [success] is having persistent presence.”

“What these forces have done is given us an umbrella,” he said.

Gaskin said the ideal situation is having Iraqi forces take over security, but his opinion is that will take “another couple of years” of training to prevent insurgents from coming back again.

But he also attributed success in the province to local tribal sheiks who have banded together to fight against al-Qaida in Iraq, and encouraged their sons to volunteer for the Army and police forces.

Gaskin said currently there are more volunteers than the U.S. military can accommodate in training.

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