The second ranking U.S. commander in Iraq says he expects only a small increase in the number of U.S. troops in the country for next month's constitutional referendum, because the new Iraqi security forces will take the lead in providing security. The general spoke from Iraq to reporters at the Pentagon.
Lieutenant General John Vines says the U.S. military expects insurgents to try to disrupt the referendum, as they tried to disrupt the Iraqi election in January.
"Based on the national elections that took place in January, we anticipate insurgents will attempt to intimidate voters, and to deprive them of the opportunity to vote," said General Vines. "So we made some adjustments that are only prudent in light of the ongoing conditions here in country."
But General Vines says there is no plan to ask for additional U.S. troops for the referendum, aside from about 2,000 already requested, who are scheduled to arrive this month.
"The numbers would probably go up about 1,500 to 2,000 at the maximum, but they actually may be down a bit based on the flow out," he said. "So, there will be very little overall change in the numbers."
There are currently about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, along with thousands more from other coalition members.
In January, the U.S. military added about 12,000 troops to help provide security for the election. But General Vines says, this time, there are many more Iraqi forces to do the job.
On other subjects, General Vines reported that coalition air strikes on suspected insurgent hideouts in northern Iraq resulted in the deaths of about 75 insurgents, including one senior leader, whom he identified as Abu Islam. The general said he had not received official reports of civilian casualties caused by the attacks, although there have been some such claims from the area.
General Vines also indicated that, even if there is a reduction of foreign forces in Iraq next year, as other senior officers have predicted, some U.S. forces would have to remain to provide air support to the Iraqi army. He said some of those would be the air crews themselves, but he also said some ground forces would be needed to coordinate air strikes. He said Iraqi forces would not be allowed to summon U.S. air power on their own to ensure that the considerable destructive power of bombs and missiles is used in the right situations on the right targets.