U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed or arrested more than 50,000 Iraqi insurgents
in the past seven months, a former top general who has headed repeated Pentagon assessment missions to Iraq said yesterday.
Gen. Jack Keane, a former deputy chief of staff for the Army, also said the United States has a good picture of the leadership of the vicious insurgency but less of an idea about its mid- and lower-level ranks.
"We know who they are," he told a lunch gathering sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He said the eight to 10 leaders "occasionally meet -- we've recorded that -- not just in Iraq, but in Jordan and Syria."
Gen. Keane's remarks provided a rare insight into the extent of U.S.-led operations against an insurgency that has been responsible for hundreds of deaths in the past few weeks alone.
Pentagon officials previously had been quoted as saying 15,000 to 16,000 Iraqis were in custody in Iraq, but spokesman Lawrence DiRita was unable to comment last night on the 50,000 figure offered by the general.
"I would highly doubt that anyone has a good handle on the numbers," he said. "I'm not aware of what General Keane has been told, but I know of no number that has been provided to the secretary, briefed by the commanders, or is being tracked by anyone."
Gen. Keane, noting that the numbers probably were higher now, said, "In the past six to seven months, we have killed or captured 50,000 insurgents."
The retired general has traveled to Iraq twice in uniform and twice as a civilian to assess progress there for the U.S. military. He did not explain how the number had been obtained.
A Defense Department consultant, retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, said Gen. Keane's figure likely includes some Iraqis who were swept up in military operations and subsequently released.
"Does that mean all of them are terrorists or still being held? Probably not.
It means we are making inroads, but not that we captured 50,000 terrorists
," he said.