DOD: Troop levels in Iraq still undecided
WASHINGTON — Military officials are stressing that although the latest Iraq rotation announced totals far less than the troops now there, no decision has been made about troop strength in Iraq next year.
The secretary of the Army said Tuesday that it was the “intention” of the DOD to have the number of troops reduced but he and other officials cautioned against assuming such a reduction would in fact occur.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the exact size will not be decided until after the election on Dec. 15 of a new Iraqi government.
The United States will not necessarily have fewer troops in Iraq next year, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman reiterated Tuesday.
“I would not characterize any of our announcements yesterday as a decision to reduce the force levels in Iraq into the future,” Whitman said.
The Pentagon on Monday announced a rotation of 92,000 servicemembers for the 2006-2008 time frame.
“We’ve announced the bulk of the rotation but not the entire rotation because this recognizes the evolving security situation in Iraq,” said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable said Monday.
The Pentagon is announcing units as they are identified to replace units nearing the end of their rotations in Iraq, Whitman said on Tuesday.
The usual troop level this year has been about 138,000, although that has been strengthened to about 160,000 in recent weeks to deal with any extra violence during voting last month and in December.
The number of troops in future rotations will depend on conditions, including the severity of the insurgency and the strength of Iraqi security forces, as well as the recommendations of U.S. commanders, Rumsfeld said.
“We know we’re going to bulk up for the elections, and we know we’re going to go back down to some level after the elections,” Rumsfeld said in a telephone call to The Associated Press.
During the call, Rumsfeld complained that an AP report gave the mistaken impression that the Pentagon has already decided to reduce troop levels below 138,000 next year.
Asked Tuesday whether U.S. troop levels will go down to 92,000 in 2006, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said, “the intention is that.”
However, “this is really a dynamic thing,” Harvey told reporters during a Washington breakfast meeting.
Only the president can make the decision about troops in Iraq, Harvey said, based on input from commanders on the ground and Pentagon officials, and he too said speculation about troop levels was unwise.
Separately, a senior Army general said there is a growing momentum in the training of Iraqi security forces, which now total about 100,000 soldiers and about 111,000 police forces. In a detailed briefing before a group organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus said the goal is to have a combined 230,000 Iraqi army and police by the December election.
Petraeus left Iraq last summer after a year in command of training programs for the Iraqi security forces. His briefing charts said training and equipping of the Iraqi army should be done by January 2007, and by March 2007 for the Iraqi police services.
The force is to reach 325,000 by July 2007.
The Pentagon hopes to be able to reduce U.S. troop levels as Iraqi security forces become more capable of defending their own country, but it is unclear when that point will be reached.
The Defense Department’s list of major units deploying as part of the 2006-2008 rotation comprised eight units, all from the United States except the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based in Schweinfurt, Germany.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.