updated 7/20/2007 11:34:47 AM ET 2007-07-20T15:34:47

If the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq is reversed before the summer of 2008, the military will risk giving up the security gains it has achieved at a cost of hundreds of American lives over the past six months, the commander of U.S. forces south of Baghdad said Friday.

Maj. Gen. Richard Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, mentioned none of the proposals in Congress for beginning to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as this fall. But he made clear in an interview that in his area of responsibility south of Baghdad, it will take many more months to consolidate recent gains.

“It’s going to take through (this) summer, into the fall, to defeat the extremists in my battle space, and it’s going to take me into next spring and summer to generate this sustained security presence,” he said, referring to an Iraqi capability to hold gains made by U.S. forces.

15 months?
Lynch said he had projected in March, when he arrived as part of the troop buildup, that it would take him about 15 months to accomplish his mission, which would be summer 2008.

He expressed concern at the growing pressure in Washington to decide by September whether the troop buildup is working and to plan for an early start to withdrawing all combat troops.

Under Lynch’s command are two of the five Army brigades that President Bush ordered to the Baghdad area in January as part of a revised counterinsurgency strategy. As part of that “surge” of forces, Lynch’s command was created in order to put added focus on stopping the flow of weaponry and insurgents into the capital from contentious areas to the south.

The three other brigades are in Baghdad and a volatile province northeast of the capital with the purpose of securing the civilian population in hopes that reduced levels of sectarian violence will give Sunni and Shiite leaders an opportunity to create a government of true national unity and to pass legislation designed to promote reconciliation.

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