Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The bomb-making abilities of the Iraqi insurgency have dropped off in recent weeks, possibly because the coalition has captured key terrorist leaders, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said yesterday.

Army Gen. George Casey also told reporters at the Pentagon that the insurgency owns years’ worth of arms and ammunition, and that the only way to ultimately defeat the enemy is with a combined military-political solution.

“The level of attacks, the level of violence has dropped off significantly since the elections,” Gen. Casey said. “Last week was the lowest level of attacks since April.”

Gen. Casey, in Washington for consultations with the Bush administration and Congress, credited the pre-election capture of several key terrorists for a lower quality of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). One of those captured was the top bomb maker for Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi. Another ran his Baghdad operation.

“They weren’t as artfully hidden as they had been in the past,” Gen. Casey said of the IEDs. “I have heard some of my subordinate commanders say that they were crudely put together, and they seem to have lost some of the expertise. … In general terms, they are falling off and not effective.”

His assessment seems more optimistic, compared with statements made at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in the Persian Gulf, called on the Pentagon to do more to find the technologies to detect IEDs. He added that bomb-making techniques developed in Iraq were being exported to Afghanistan.

“It’s almost a leapfrog,” said committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican. “As soon as we get a system which seems to be producing the effectiveness, they leapfrog to another technology and keep moving forward.”

Gen. Abizaid said, “It is a problem that requires not just an American effort, but an international effort, because we see the technology moving, and the tactics and techniques, moving from Iraq to Pakistan to Afghanistan.”

Gen. Casey said the average insurgency in the past century took about nine years to defeat.

“Most insurgencies are defeated by political means, rather than necessarily by military means,” he said.

The four-star general also described neighboring Syria’s role in supporting the enemy.

“There are former regime leaders who come and go from Syria, who operate out of Syria, and they do planning, and they provide resources to the insurgency in Iraq,” he said. “I have no hard evidence that the Syrian government is actually complicit with those people, but we certainly have evidence that people at low levels with the Syrian government know that they’re there and what they’re up to.”

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