Rebels more effective in attacks, says US general

 

IRAQ: A bold, innovative insurgency is becoming more effective against US supply lines in Iraq and explosive attacks have slowed military operations there, a senior American general said yesterday.

"They have had a growing understanding that where they can affect us is in the logistics flow," Air Force Lieut Gen Lance Smith, deputy chief of the US Central Command, told reporters.

"They have gotten more effective in using IEDs," Gen Smith added, referring to improvised explosive devices hidden beside roads by guerrillas fighting US-led forces in Iraq.

"He (the insurgency) is becoming more effective," the general said. "They may use doorbells today to blow these things up. They may use remote controls from toys tomorrow. And as we adapt, they adapt." Gen Smith said US forces in Iraq now totalled 148,000 troops - up from 138,000 at the start of this month and near the 150,000 planned to protect national elections in January - but that roadside explosives were hindering military operations and reconstruction nearly two years after the US-led invasion of that country.

"Yes, they are," Gen Smith replied when asked if response to such attacks was slowing down operations.

"They cause us to re-route vehicles. They cause us to have to employ tactics - although the tactics are generally successful - in avoiding them. And (they) cause us to have to convoy where maybe otherwise we would prefer to move in smaller numbers . . . So it is having an impact," the general said.

As if to underline the grim security situation, a bomb killed eight people and wounded a senior cleric in the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, renewing fears of sectarian strife in a vote that should finally strip Saddam's Sunni minority of its long domination of Iraq. The bomb in Kerbala, scene of previous devastating attacks that seemed designed to sow strife, wounded Sheikh Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalai, a cleric close to Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani.

US Defence Secretary Mr Donald Rumsfeld and the military have been sharply criticized by members of Congress and defence analysts for not anticipating the growing Iraqi insurgency and its explosive attacks against convoys that have killed hundreds of US troops in the past year.

The commander of the US Air Force announced on Tuesday that the military in Iraq had begun using C-130 military cargo aircraft to ferry some food and equipment high above dangerous roadways in order to relieve pressure on ground convoys.

At another Pentagon briefing yesterday, army officials said the service was spending $4.1 billion in an accelerated effort to provide protective armour for Humvee jeeps, trucks and other US military vehicles in Iraq. They said all such vehicles in Iraq, including cargo trucks, were expected to have factory-installed or other armour kits by next June.

The insurgency "is a very, very sophisticated enemy", Army Maj Gen Stephen Speakes told reporters. "A year ago, the amount of explosive that was being used in an IED was much less than it is now." The comments came after a US soldier complained to Mr Rumsfeld in Kuwait last week that troops had to scrounge for scrap metal to protect their vehicles.

Brig Gen Jeffrey Sorensen and other army officers said new armour samples were being tested.