The Pentagon's latest math on Iraq

The top brass says the insurgency has roughly the same strength it did a year ago. They also say "we're definitely winning." Anyone got a calculator?

Published April 27, 2005 7:08PM (EDT)

At a press briefing yesterday afternoon, the top brass weighed in on military progress in Iraq, which has been rocked by another wave of violence from insurgents the last couple of weeks, leading some military experts to warn anew of a quagmire.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers explained that the insurgency is "nowhere near the peak" once seen, that the new Iraqi security forces are growing, and that the U.S. military is getting better intelligence help from Iraqis themselves. They offered some other telling comments about the insurgency as well:

MYERS: I think their capacity stays about the same, and where they are right now is where they were almost a year ago.  in terms of number of incidents, it's right about where it was a year ago.

RUMSFELD: "[W]hat you have is a relatively small number of people who have weapons and who have money and who are determined to try to prevent democracy from going forward. And it does not take a genius to go out and kill innocent men, women and children. That's a perfectly doable thing in a society.

MYERS: I'm going to say this. I think we are winning. Okay? I think we're definitely winning. I think we've been winning for some time. And if you pull out -- if you look at the attacks, the number of attacks that we track -- I think this is a poor measure of whether you're winning or losing, by the way.

Retired Army General John Keane, a member of the bipartisan Defense Policy Board who returned recently from a fact-finding mission in Iraq, agrees with Myers, at least on the latter point.

"'One of the insurgency's strengths is its capacity to regenerate," he told the Boston Globe earlier this week. "We have killed thousands of them and detained even more, but they are still able to regenerate. They are still coming at us."

"It's always dangerous to look at [the numbers of] enemy attacks," Keane added. "They can be very misleading, as much as the body counts in Vietnam. ... It can lead to wrong conclusions."

By Mark Follman

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

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