New commander's Baghdad strategy: 'preserve gains'
Incoming US Gen. Jeffery Hammond plans to add US-Iraqi command outposts.
Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images /Newscom/File
The incoming commander of US forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, said Tuesday that he's determined to preserve the progress seen here over the past year. But challenges still loom large, he says, especially as the US will have to fight the war with fewer troops by the summer, when American forces are expected to return to presurge levels.
In order to capitalize on gains in the Iraqi capital, General Hammond says he plans in the short term to push the envelope further and establish more US combat outposts in Baghdad and surrounding areas, particularly in places where US troops have not had much of a presence in the past.
"I am pushing us further, I am extending our reach further than it is now and to be less predictable ... we are not sitting back on the laurels of the successes of our predecessors. That would be a big mistake," Hammond told a group of Western reporters during a luncheon briefing in Baghdad.
He says that he plans to add 24 joint US and Iraqi combat outposts and security stations in Baghdad between now and June. Currently, 75 outposts and stations dot the capital.
These outposts and stations, erected inside neighborhoods once controlled by insurgents and Al Qaeda-linked militants, have been a cornerstone of the surge in US troops over the past year that saw an additional 30,000 US soldiers sent to Iraq.
Hammond says that although daily attacks in Baghdad now average 17, compared with about 77 when he was last here in 2004 as deputy commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, the situation could worsen again. It would certainly spike, he says, if Al Qaeda succeeds in launching a "spectacular attack." He says Al Qaeda in Baghdad has been "disrupted but not defeated."
"Baghdad could flare up again; nothing in Iraq is easy – each day is a new challenge," he says.