The U.S. may begin reducing troop levels in Iraq later this year, if insurgent attacks remain low, according to Lt Gen Lance Smith, Vice-Commander of U.S. Central Command.
As reported in this blog weeks ago, the number of attacks against coalition forces have dropped dramatically since the Iraqi elections in late January. Contacts in the intel community report a 45-55% decline over the past six weeks. Overall, insurgent activity is at its lowest levels in the past eight months.
Make no mistake: it's still too early to declare final victory in Iraq, and it's possible that insurgents are husbanding resources for a new offensive in the spring. But it's also true that the terrorists have suffered setbacks in recent months. The capture of key Zarqawi operatives have yielded timely, actionable intelligence, as evidenced by the recent assault on an insurgent training camp that resulted in the deaths of 85 terrorists. Additionally, the Iraqis are taking a greater role in securing their freedom. Iraqi security forces--notably their naescent special forces teams--are displaying great skill in tactical operation, and ordinary Iraqis are providing more information on the insurgents and their activities, generating even more intelligence information.
But most of the credit for the improving security situation goes to the U.S. military. Since the fall of Saddam, they have battled a resourceful and tenacious foe in an urban setting--a nightmare for any military. Characteristically, our Soldiers and Marines have adapted and persevered, slowly gaining the upper hand. They are the real heroes of this war. Perhaps some day, where that statue of Saddam once stood, the Iraqi people will dedicate a monument to the brave Americans who won the war, and (eventually) the peace.
A personal note: I once served under General Smith, now the CENTCOM Vice-Commander. He is an exceptionally gifted officer, respected and revered in both the Air Force and the joint community. With the USAF now facing a leadership crisis (more on that later), General Smith is the right man to restore confidence and integrity at the highest levels of command.