Unofficially worried about a quagmire

Why U.S. troops may not be headed for home any time soon.

Published April 25, 2005 11:04PM (EDT)

Developments in Iraq haven't been too positive of late -- though pronouncements from the U.S. military have, with forecasts for reduced U.S. troop levels, and confident appraisals of an insurgency weakened and on the run.

But as a new surge of violence rattles Baghdad and beyond, some in the military are expressing deep concern (not on the record, of course) that the mission may be in serious trouble.

"Senior military strategists, speaking privately, said they worry that insurgents are making inroads toward sparking a full-blown sectarian war and offered cautions about recent predictions that the United States could significantly reduce its forces from the current 142,000 within a year," reported the Boston Globe yesterday.

"'One of the insurgency's strengths is its capacity to regenerate," retired Army General John Keane, who returned recently from a fact-finding mission in Iraq, told the Globe. "We have killed thousands of them and detained even more, but they are still able to regenerate. They are still coming at us."

Keane, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, took issue with recent suggestions by military commanders that the insurgency was waning because the number of attacks across the country had declined to about 50 a day, compared with more than 200 per day last year. And he used a word all but banished by supporters of Bush administration policy: "It's always dangerous to look at [the numbers of] enemy attacks," he said. "They can be very misleading, as much as the body counts in Vietnam. ... It can lead to wrong conclusions."

The Christian Science Monitor has a sobering roundup with more, including fresh accounts of U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces failing to operate effectively as the chaos mounts.

Still, something tells us that they aren't using the V-word or worrying too much about the progress of the mission over at the military's nascent CNN-style network, the Pentagon Channel.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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