ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s misleading to say the fighting in Iraq has all but ceased, as U.S. forces engaged as late as Tuesday with enemy forces in the Tikrit region, warned Army Lt. Gen. David McKeirnan, the Coalition Forces Land Component commander.
McKeirnan has divided the resistance that ground forces continue to encounter into three categories — pockets of the former regime’s military, paramilitary forces primarily made up of non-Iraqi fighters and suicide bombers, McKeirnan said Wednesday during the first live news teleconference broadcast out of Baghdad into the Pentagon.
The latter two were the least expected types of residence war planners had considered, however, paramilitary and “death squads,” as they are called by defense officials, did not appear out of the clear blue, McKeirnan told reporters.
“We had to adjust our planning, but they were [threats] that were built-in,” he said.
However, the pockets of resistance seem to be diminishing as the United States and other nations move forward in a “blurred transition between combat operations and post-hostility operations,” to begin rebuilding the nation, to include restoring power, water and letting businesses reopen, he said.
And mounting anti-American sentiments expressed by some Iraqis, and from Iranian Shiites moving into Iraq to protest the U.S. military presence, for now don’t seem to pose a danger to military personnel, he said.
“Right now, the Shiite and any Iranian-influenced Shiite actions are not an overt threat to coalition forces,” McKeirnan said, adding military leaders constantly monitor and assess the situation.
McKeirnan said 11 other nations were providing ground forces, while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday said during a press briefing that 20 countries “have forces on the ground in Iraq or are providing support functions in the theater.”
The United States has roughly 132,000 troops in country, augmented by another 20,000 from other nations, primarily Great Britain and Australian, which have aided in the U.S.-led combat operations from the beginning of the ground war 36 days ago, McKeirnan said.
Some new countries offering ground aid include the Czech Republic, which has provided medical units; Italy, which offered 3,000 Carabinieri (a specialized police force) for security duties; Albania, which provided military forces for stability operations; and Lithuanian, which provided cargo handlers to deliver humanitarian aid, Rumsfeld said.
McKeirnan said his forces will work hand-in-hand with Jay Garner, the retired Army general picked by the administration to lead the reconstruction efforts in Iraq. And while Marines have been steadily pulling out of Baghdad in recent days, McKeirnan gave no idea when U.S. forces might leave Iraq.
“We’ll leave when the mission is complete, and I won’t be the one deciding when the mission is complete,” he said.