WASHINGTON – U.S. and Iraqi forces have "mostly eliminated" the ability of insurgents to conduct sustained, high-intensity attacks in Baghdad (search), the top U.S. commander in the Iraqi capital said Friday.
Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr. (search) said in a video-teleconference interview from Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon that offensive operations by U.S. and Iraqi troops in recent weeks had sharply reduced the number of insurgent bombings. But he cautioned against concluding that the insurgency has been broken.
"It's very difficult to know it's over," Webster said.
There were 14 to 21 car bombings per week in Baghdad before the May 22 start of the U.S. portion of the latest offensive, dubbed Operation Lightning (search), he said. That has dropped to about seven or eight a week now, Webster said, attributing the improvement to the disruption of insurgent cells and the availability of more and better intelligence.
"There are some more threats ahead," he said. "I do believe, however, that the ability of these insurgents to conduct sustained, high-intensity operations as they did last year, we've mostly eliminated that."
He said that about 1,700 suspected insurgents had been captured during Operation Lightning, including 51 foreigners.
Despite those gains, Webster said the future course of the insurgency was uncertain.
"When you're talking about an insurgency in a country like this where the borders are still rather porous and folks can still come in and there is money available to hire local criminals and others to participate in the fight, it is very difficult to get a day-to-day estimate of the number of people you're fighting," he said.
On the other hand, he predicted that, "in the next couple of months we will not see sustained, long bloody months in Baghdad."
Webster painted a remarkably positive picture of the prospects for improving security in Baghdad. By October, when Iraqis are scheduled to vote on a new constitution, there should be a full division of Iraqi army soldiers, numbering about 18,000, sufficiently trained to take the lead in securing the Iraqi capital, he said.
There are now about 15,000 Iraqi soldiers, in various stages of training, in the Baghdad area that Webster commands. Of those, about one-third are sufficiently trained to control territory in the capital city, he said.
Webster's force, led by the 3rd Infantry Division, consists of about 30,000 troops — all but 1,000 of which are Americans. The non-U.S. troops are from Macedonia, Estonia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.