Subject: Mattis: Winning in Iraq will take 5 more years
Click here: Mattis: Winning in Iraq will take 5 more years North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County
Mattis: Winning in Iraq will take 5 more years
By: MARK WALKER - Staff Writer
CAMP PENDLETON -- Winning the war in Iraq will require U.S. presence into the next decade, the commanding general of Camp Pendleton's I Marine Expeditionary Force predicted Wednesday.
"I think it will take five years," Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis told the North County Times in an exclusive interview in his office at the base. "Over that period, we will see a declining level of U.S. forces and casualties and a corresponding decline in enemy effectiveness."
Mattis, who also oversees the service's troops in Iraq as commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, also spoke about an announcement coming today on what actions will be taken against a squad of Marines and their commanders for actions leading to the death of 24 Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha last year.
"There are expected levels of accountability, and we have not shown any reluctance to address those issues," said Mattis, the convening authority over the Haditha case. "At the same time, we are not going to forget the challenges of being a young Marine with a split second to make a decision."
The 70-minute session was only the second interview the 56-year-old general has given since being elevated to the command role in August.
The Marine Corps remains responsible for security in the insurgent-riddled Anbar province of western Iraq, a region Mattis said is unlike the rest of the country.
"Anbar is a cancer on Iraq," he said. "It is unique from the rest of the country and does not have the kind of sectarian violence that the rest of the country does."
Instead, U.S. and Iraqi troops and security forces are being targeted by al-Qaida-backed fighters who hide among the civilian population.
Iraqi troops are playing a continually larger role in battling the insurgents and now account for 52 percent of the casualties being treated at U.S. medical facilities, Mattis said.
"That says something about the nature of the fight there today and one way to indicate whether the Iraqis are in the fight," he said. "The Marines and the transition teams they are working with are in a very lethal area."
Mattis said that while Anbar remains extremely treacherous for U.S. troops, there is progress.
"I don't want to put lipstick on a pig, but the one point I would make very strongly is this: Violence and progress can and do coexist," said Mattis, a battle-tested general who led troops in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, in the battle of Fallujah in 2004 and performed a similar role in Afghanistan.
While December has been one of the bloodiest months of the war and the number of U.S. killed since the invasion nears 3,000, Mattis said the perception that the war is being lost is simply wrong.
"When you see the amount of violence and criminal activity, it is easy to say this just isn't working or at best we are just going sideways, when in fact a lot of progress has been made."
'More Iraqi troops'
With more than 70,000 Marines at bases in Southern California, Mattis said the frequency of deployments for those troops will depend on the developments in Iraq.
Commanders would like to stretch the current rotational schedule from seven months in Iraq with 12 months off to as much as two years at home before redeployment. But to get to that level will require increasing the size of the 180,000-member Marine Corps, which President Bush said this week he wants to do.
Before he took his current assignment, Mattis worked at the Marine Corps headquarters at Quantico, Va., and had called for increasing the size of the force. He declined Wednesday to put a specific number on what he believes would be adequate because the issue is now being decided by the Pentagon and White House.
Mattis also agreed with statements coming out of the Pentagon that simply putting more troops into Iraq right now, as the president is considering, should at minimum include a very narrowly defined mission.
But when he talks with his general on the ground in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, Mattis said he isn't asked for more Marines.
"You have to be careful in just deciding to throw numbers at something," he said. "You need to fully think through the problem that is out there. When I talk to Gen. Zilmer, he says he needs more Iraqi troops."
Until the size of the Marine Corps is increased to account for injured troops and those removed from units and assigned to help train and mentor the Iraqi army, Mattis said the frequency of deployments depends on the level of attacks.
"We are at war, and the enemy gets a vote," Mattis said. "We won't permit the enemy an initiative."
He also fully supports calls this week to allow some former Iraqi army generals to come back into the service "so long as they don't have innocent blood on their hands."
Helping shape policy
Since he took command more than four months ago, Mattis has made frequent trips to Iraq, staying as long as three weeks at a time.
While there, he discusses the battlefield with commanders and has frequent discussions with the generals at the Pentagon.
"Our opinions are being solicited, and I have very open and candid conversations," Mattis said. "I am very confident that my conversations are productive and are going up the service chain and the operational chain."
The bottom line in benchmarks for progress is whether strides are being made in getting a handle on and reducing the violence, in seeing the Iraqi army take an increasing role in the security effort and in stabilizing the government so it is providing effective services to the people, Mattis said.
"There's a lot of hard work left to do, and what we have to do is to continue to use American troops as the bulwark to help stand up the security forces and allow the shallow roots of the Iraqi democracy to move forward."
Mattis said he wanted to thank North County and the rest of the region for the near-universal support it shows the Marines, regardless of residents' support or opposition to the war.
"We get constant appreciation and unstinted support," he said.
For the Marines and sailors under his command, Mattis said he would not be where he is today without them.
"I've stuck around this long for the privilege of serving with the most spirited and unselfish individuals there are," he said.
-- Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or [email protected]
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