- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

Pentagon officials said yesterday that U.S. forces killed a senior leader of al Qaeda in Iraq as the first military unit departed that country in the drawdown of troops President Bush ordered this month.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson said the surge of U.S. troops that arrived in Iraq as part of a major counteroffensive this summer had dispersed terrorist cells and chased them into hiding, as evidenced in a communique scrawled by terrorist leader Abu Usama al-Tunisi before his death.

“I am surrounded and desperate,” said the note, which coalition forces found at the safe house where al-Tunisi and two other terrorists were killed Wednesday by a 500-pound bomb dropped from a U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jet.

The death of al-Tunisi, who coordinated foreign fighters entering the country, and other recent military blows has splintered al Qaeda in Iraq, said Gen. Anderson, chief of staff for U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

“They are very broken up, very unable to mass and conducting very isolated operations,” the general said from Baghdad in a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon.

“And I think what that little note says is that he was very desperate. He wasn’t getting the materials, the supplies, the guidance, information, anything he needed. And I think that is probably indicative of how successful we’ve been with these cells.”

Al-Tunisi was a close adviser and likely successor to top al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Recent military gains, as reported to Congress earlier this month by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, helped solidify Republican support for the mission and undermined Democrats’ repeated attempts to force a pullout.

A growing number of Senate Democrats have embraced restricting war funds to hasten a pullout, despite Mr. Bush ordering a limited withdrawal that began this week with about 2,200 Marines leaving the war zone.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, scoffed yesterday at a proposal by Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, that calls for an end of combat operations in Iraq within 15 months.

“[I] can’t imagine why Democrats, or even Republicans, would support a proposal that includes as a goal leaving the need to get our troops out of Iraq for the next president,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

Democratic leaders, who so far have failed to add troop-withdrawal legislation to the Defense authorization bill, say they will try again with the $189 billion emergency war-funding request that now is being considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit that had been stationed in Anbar Province, a one-time al Qaeda stronghold where Sunni tribal leaders recently helped U.S. forces rout the terrorists, has nevertheless started the trip home aboard a Navy vessel, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

Mr. Bush ordered a surge of about 30,000 troops, which brought the total number of U.S. forces in Iraq to about 160,000 troops, to stop the sectarian fighting and terror attacks that were escalating out of control earlier this year.

The drawdown will reduce the force to about 130,000 troops by next summer, and further reductions could come depending on events in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said this week.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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