U.S. Forces Face Heightened Violence in Iraq In four troubled provinces of Iraq, attacks on U.S. forces are now at an all-time high. Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group which trains and supports the Iraqi army, says the goal of U.S. forces now is to get the violence down to a "manageable" level.

U.S. Forces Face Heightened Violence in Iraq

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Debbie Elliott is away. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Two leading Republican senators are calling for a new strategy in Iraq. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska told CNN Late Edition that Americans won't want to keep troops in the middle of a civil war. And on CBS's Face the Nation, the chairman of Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, said that in the past week there has been an exponential increase in the killings and savagery in Iraq.

Hundreds of Iraqis and more than 50 U.S. troops have been killed just this month.

Brigadier General Dana Pittard is commander of the Iraq Assistance Group, which assists and trains Iraqi troops. General Pittard says the number of attacks against U.S. forces in four troubled provinces is as high as it's ever been.

I spoke with him earlier today from Camp Victory in Baghdad.

Sir, I read somewhere that there's an attack almost every 15 minutes. Does that square with your own intelligence?

General DANA PITTARD (U.S. Army): You know, I haven't had it broken down like that, an attack every 15 minutes, but there's certainly an attack every hour.

You know, our listeners back in America really need to know that the glide path was really headed in a very good direction earlier this year, in 2006. The defining event that had occurred that has really unleashed the violence that we've seen recently was the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra on February 22.

After that, the Shia in Iraq basically said collectively that we now must take security in our own hands. And this just unleashed this wave of sectarian violence.

LYDEN: General Pittard, I understand that U.S. forces say that 300,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained. Now, that would combine both the police and army troops.

How many are you actually able to put under command and in the field at any one time?

Gen. PITTARD: I think at any one time, there's roughly 65 to 75 percent strength of units based on the (unintelligible) plan. That's just the price of kind of doing business here.

LYDEN: What have been your successes, would you say, and what are some of your remaining frustrations? I realize you've just been there since July. It's not a huge amount of time, but it's your third tour. So what's coming along well and what makes you smack your hand against your forehead?

Gen. PITTARD: Well, I'll tell you, in Iraq you see progress incrementally, so it's over a span of time and the progress of the Iraqi security forces is certainly the Iraqi army is along a glide path that I think we all can be proud of, and the fact that they've been the most resistant to sectarian violence, that is a big plus.

I guess if there was an area of disappointment, it might be some of the sectarian influences in the national police, and we're addressing that with what we're calling these quick look programs as far as retraining. So there is hope there, but that would have been a minor disappointment.

LYDEN: This week, General Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said that the Pentagon's making plans based on the assumption that U.S. forces are going to have to remain at these current levels beyond 2010. Does that mean that American forces are encountering more trouble than had been expected in trying to get the Iraqi troops to stand up?

Gen. PITTARD: What is means is we're finding a counter-insurgency, and if you look over the past 100 years at counter-insurgencies, they last anywhere between eight and ten years. So I think that all that the chief of staff of the Army is looking at is planning. It doesn't mean that will happen that way, but at some point you say, okay, how do we budget for what's happening here?

LYDEN: So you would say he's just being proactive?

Gen. PITTARD: I think what he's doing is being pragmatic.

LYDEN: Well, talking about fighting a counter-insurgency war, the head of the British army said last week that British troops should leave Iraq soon because their continued presence was making the situation worse and creating resentment. Could you react to his statement, please?

Gen. PITTARD: Well, his latest statement, though, is that he believed that we should stay and see this through.

LYDEN: Right. Which was not reported as much at the same time. But other military critics have said the same thing, including people who are in uniform themselves.

Gen. PITTARD: I think there's some merit with that, in that if you are too visible, there's this feeling of occupation, almost suffocation, and the Iraqi people at some point will resent that, if they already are not. But a lower profile, that's effective. And that's where our embedded transition teams have such tremendous value.

LYDEN: And how soon do you think Iraq will have its own army entirely capable of fighting insurgencies inside its own territory?

Gen. PITTARD: You know, it's tough to set a timetable. I'm not afraid to give you a date. The level of violence right now is at a level that's beyond the overall capability of the Iraq security forces that do it alone without our assistance. We must get this level of violence down to a certain level that can be managed and taken over by the Iraqis.

LYDEN: Brigadier General Dana Pittard is commander of the Iraq Assistance Group, and we reached him at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

Thank you very much, General Pittard.

Gen. PITTARD: Thank you.

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