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ARLINGTON, Va. — Standard operational security concerns, not a lack of trust, prompted U.S. military planners to keep recent offensive operations secret from many Iraqi troops ahead of the operations, said the commander of U.S. troops in northern Iraq.

This month, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched Operation Phantom Phoenix against insurgents south of Baghdad and in northern Iraq.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the offensive was kept secret from most of the Iraqi units taking part for as long as possible to prevent insurgents from leaving the region ahead of time.

The story says the move suggests that U.S. military planners “cannot fully trust the allies who are supposed to pick up more of the fighting as American troops scale back their presence this year.”

On Friday, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling said the reporter who wrote the story took a “logic leap.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Hertling, head of Multi-National Division-North.

Hertling noted the operation was kept secret from both U.S. and Iraqi troops to prevent the operation from becoming public, either through the media or from troops talking to their families.

“We are trying to keep it as close-hold as possible to trap as many of the enemy as possible in the area where we wanted to trap them,” he said.

He also said Iraqi army commanders were involved with the planning of the operation.

“I trust my Iraqi counterparts with my life because I go out with them on daily basis and, my subordinates feel the same way,” Hertling said.

New York Times foreign news editor Susan Chira said the paper stood by its story.

“We did not attribute that statement to General Hertling, only saying that one could deduce from these maneuvers that there was distrust of some of the allies — not a blanket distrust of every Iraqi army counterpart or of Iraqi senior leadership,” Chira said in a Friday e-mail.

But Hertling disagreed.

“That’s not a deduction, its an implication, and it’s not true,” he said.


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