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IRAQ ARTICLE 6
US troops will never overcome insurgents, warns senior officer
The insurgency in
Speaking on the eve of
"It is not necessarily a growing insurgency but it is a resilient one," he told The Telegraph. "We're looking at a long-term insurgency, probably at a lower level of violence than now. Historically, you look at a decade – and this is no different."
"Undoubtedly, insurgents are going to attack polling sites with suicide belts wrapped around them,'' Gen John Abizaid of US Central Command told an American newspaper. Another senior officer disclosed that 400 Iraqi civilians, officials and security officers had been killed so far this month as part of a campaign of intimidation against voters. He said that insurgents had stepped up their attacks on polling stations, with 45 targeted on Friday alone.
Yesterday, in what coalition commanders feared was a taste of violence to come, eight people died in a suicide bombing in the town of
The Iraqi government also said that it had arrested three senior aides of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of al-Qa'eda in
The cautiously optimistic assessment has led to the Pentagon drawing up "best case" plans to cut US troop numbers in Iraq by half over the next 18 months as part of a wide review of the American military, The Telegraph has learned.
It is hoped that a new strategy for training Iraqi troops – in which thousands of US military advisers would be attached to local units as "mentors" - will lead to dramatic improvements in security.
President George W Bush is insistent that America will not "cut and run", but the administration is keen to have an exit strategy ready before the US mid-term elections in late 2006 - as long as the "mentoring" strategy works.
"The administration does not want to go into the mid-term elections where they are now," said Dan Goure, a Pentagon adviser and director of the Lexington Institute defence think-tank. Generals and Pentagon civilian planners were working to cut numbers from about 120,000 - though there are 155,000 covering the elections - to 60,000.
Up to 10,000 American troops could be assigned long-term to Iraqi units, although US forces would still provide logistics back-up, air support and heavy armour.