U.S. and Iraqi forces will have to kill another 20,000 militants before dealing the insurgency a final blow, said Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the most highly decorated and youngest four-star general in the U.S. Army when he retired in 1996.
Recently returned from his third trip to Iraq, where he visited with U.S. Army infantry battalions and observed Iraqi army brigades and police SWAT teams, Gen. McCaffrey said the violence had yet to peak.
“January  will be the high-water point of the insurgency,” Gen. McCaffrey told The Washington Times. “And the following six months we will see much of the energy start to drain out of that process.”
If the political process remains positive and Iraq manages to put 250,000 soldiers and police into action, “by next summer there will be a dramatically changed security and political situation,” he said.
That timetable may be cutting it fine for U.S. forces, which, although led by what the retired general described as the best the U.S. has ever fielded, is rapidly reaching the end of its rope.
“We are getting toward the end of our capacity,” warned Gen. McCaffrey, who now serves as a professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and has a consulting company. “The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are incapable of sustaining the effort. Our recruiting is coming apart. The National Guard is going to unravel.”
He quickly added: “But in Iraq the fighting forces are superb. Morale is high and the troops are courageous.”
Gen. McCaffrey’s outlook appears to run counter to more positive estimates coming out of the White House, but his reputation as a seasoned combat veteran with two tours in Vietnam, one in the Dominican Republic and one in Iraq, makes his a voice to be heard.
After visiting troops in the field and listening to military, political and U.N. leaders during his latest five-day visit, Gen. McCaffrey said he concluded that of the hundreds of thousands of Sunnis who don’t see a role for themselves in the new Iraq, about 20,000 are adamant fighters — and they are the ones that have to be dealt with.
“There are probably 20,000 who we will have to kill before this is done with,” he said in a telephone interview, and maybe 1,000 to 2,000 foreign fighters.
The new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday that the violence in Iraq had reached unacceptable levels with Iraqis being used as cannon fodder in the guerrilla war.
Nearly 1,200 people have been killed since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari swore in the country’s new Shi’ite-dominated government on April 28. Political negotiations with the Sunni minority have failed to stop a wave of bloody suicide bombings.
Mr. al-Jaafari is expected in Washington this week.
“Foreign terrorists and hard-line Ba’athists want Iraq to descend into civil war. Foreign terrorists are using the Iraqi people as cannon fodder,” said Mr. Khalilzad, after his first meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.