Maintaining security in Diyala province north of Baghdad will be impossible if U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq, according to a U.S. senior ground commander there.
"A counterinsurgency operation is a long fight," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon told CNN.
"We obviously cannot maintain that if the forces are withdrawn -- and that would be a very, very bad idea, to do a significant withdrawal immediately," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, told CNN's Jamie McIntyre on CNN.com Live.
In September, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is to brief Congress on the progress of operations involving the recent increase of U.S. troops in Iraq -- a buildup the Bush administration calls a "surge." The briefing could determine how long the additional troops will stay.
Mixon's troops are working with Iraqi forces fighting entrenched al Qaeda forces in Baquba and around Diyala province in an operation dubbed "Arrowhead Ripper."
U.S. troop casualties have been high in the province, according to U.S. commanders, because insurgent forces are using the area as a base and have booby-trapped it with "deeply buried" roadside bombs that have killed entire Humvee crews.
Diyala became the home base for many al Qaeda forces when U.S. troops clamped down on Baghdad in February with increased troop levels, the military says.
Once a model of how the United States was clearing violence from parts of Iraq, Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, has become a ghost town except for the pockets of fighting between coalition and al Qaeda forces.
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Mixon said the U.S. military strategy of "clear, hold and retain" was not possible when his troops arrived in Baquba last September because he did not have enough forces.
"I only had enough forces initially when I arrived here last September to clear Baquba. I did that many times, but I was unable to hold it and secure it," Mixon said.
"Now I have enough force to go in, establish permanent compound outposts throughout the city that will be manned by coalition forces, Iraqi army, and Iraqi police, and maintain a permanent presence.
"But all of this has been made possible with the additional forces that have been given to me as a result of the surge," Mixon said.
While U.S. and Iraqi forces appear to have the upper hand in Diyala, Mixon said there is still some question about the Iraqi government's commitment.
"The problem is one of support that [Iraqi forces] receive from their Ministry of Defense and their other higher headquarters -- particularly in logistics. We have got to increase their numbers, we've got to get better logistic support from their headquarters so they can sustain the fight," Mixon said.
Mixon's comments came as another Republican senator broke with the Bush administration over the war on Thursday, arguing that the United States should start moving toward a withdrawal from the 4-year-old conflict.
"Things are getting worse, not better," Sen. Pete Domenici told reporters in his home state of New Mexico.
Domenici is the third GOP lawmaker in two weeks to urge the administration to change course in Iraq. He blamed the Iraqi government for failing to take steps toward a political settlement of the country's sectarian warfare.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, broke ranks in late June, urging Bush to change course "very soon." Ohio's George Voinovich followed suit a day later.
Mixon said he understands that some Americans are losing patience with the war.
"We would like to see things move along more quickly. However, a counterinsurgency operation is a long fight," he said. "We're going to have to develop a strategy in the near term to deal with the immediate threat, which I believe the surge has done."
But he added, "Let me be clear about what I said: The U.S. still will need to have a long-term commitment to Iraqi security forces to ensure long-term success and stability in Iraq."