Al Qaeda in Iraq increases ranks, levels of violence, says DOD

The terror cell's roughly 2,400-man force dwarfs the 1,000 extremist fighters that had populated al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2011, according to DOD data complied by The Associated Press. 

That larger force has struck back against the coalition government led by Iraqi Prime Minister Minister Nouri al Maliki with a vengeance in the months after the American withdrawal from the country. 

Insurgent attacks across Iraq have taken place roughly 140 times per month, according to the AP — that's compared to 75 times at this point last year. 

Last Monday, a chain of coordinated bombings shattered several Shiite neighborhoods and Iraqi security outposts across the country last Monday, leaving 26 dead. 

A few days before, a mass prison break in the northern town of Tikrit left 10 prison guards dead and unleashed a number of prisoners and terror suspects back into the country. 

Many of those prisoners were suspected AQI members who fought against American and coalition forces during the war, according to reports. 

In response, the Pentagon is ramping up efforts to better train and prepare Iraqi forces for the rising wave of violence that is currently sweeping the country. 

Pentagon officials have opted to dump $1.7 million into continued security and counterterrorism training for Iraq's national security forces despite the austere fiscal outlook facing the department. 

Last Tuesday, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld approved the funding, which was drawn from other DOD coffers, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. 

The money will keep U.S.-led training and assistance operations in Iraq going for the next three months, according to Little. 

That 90-day stipend, he added, will be a "temporary bridge" until DOD number crunchers submit their budget proposal for fiscal 2013 early next year. 

Little said the funding transfer was not a "zero-sum trade," noting that ongoing U.S. military operations or current Pentagon programs would not be negatively affected by the move. 

That effort, coupled with other U.S.-led security initiatives in Iraq, should be enough to keep al Qaeda's resurgent terror cell at bay long enough for Maliki's government to assert control over the country. 

Peter Verga, chief of staff for DOD's policy undersecretary, told Congress in June that the strategic goals for Iraq laid out by the White House were in reach, despite AQI's increasing strength in the country. 

"We are now at a point where the strategic dividends of our efforts are within reach," Verga said at the time. "That successful transition enables us to concentrate on building that long-term strategic partnership based on mutual interest and mutual respect."