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ARLINGTON, Va. — The United States should plan on having three years left to conduct major operations in Iraq, said retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.

McCaffrey, former commander of U.S. Southern Command, has written a report on the conditions in Iraq and the way forward after his trip in early March to Iraq and Kuwait.

One of the report’s conclusions: The United States has little time left to get things right in Iraq.

“It is very unlikely that the U.S. political opposition can constitutionally force the President into retreat,” the report says. “However, our next President will only have 12 months or less to get Iraq straight before he/she is forced to pull the plug. Therefore, our planning horizons should assume that there are less than 36 months remaining of substantial U.S. troop presence in Iraq.”

In a Thursday phone interview with Stars and Stripes, McCaffrey said President Bush can continue pursuing the war in Iraq for the rest of his term because it is unlikely the Democratic-controlled Congress will stop war funding.

“If they significantly impair the president’s ability to command wartime forces, then he will turn around and say, ‘Let you be accountable for the outcome,’” McCaffrey said. “Why in their right minds would they want to do that?”

However, McCaffrey said the current U.S. troop presence in Iraq is unsustainable and recommended withdrawing some of the “surge” units. “We can sustain probably seven to 10 brigades in perpetuity in Iraq, but we’ve got 20,” McCaffrey said.

The Army is starting to unravel after having been “starved for resources” and given its current commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. “We have no strategic reserve in the United States to deploy into a new combat requirement,” he said. “There is no strategic reserve in the Middle East. We are flat on our ass.”

Asked about McCaffrey’s report, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman reiterated comments from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the U.S. military has about 2 million troops to call upon.

The recent increase in U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan reflect the Defense Department’s capability to provide extra troops when needed, Whitman said.

“I am confident, as is the chairman, that the United States military will be able to provide trained, equipped and ready forces for any mission that it may receive,” he said.

In other matters, McCaffrey stressed the need to give the Iraqi troops and police officers enough weaponry to eventually take over for U.S. and other coalition forces.

Right now, the Iraqis are ill-equipped with only three C-130 transport aircraft, Soviet weapons and no logistics or medical system.

McCaffrey insists the Iraqis need 150 U.S. helicopters, 24 C-130 Hercules aircraft, 5,000 light armored vehicles and precision weapons to suppress mortar and rocket attacks.

Responding to McCaffrey’s comments, a senior military official said the Iraqis are already getting more sophisticated weaponry including Cougars and other armored vehicles.

The Iraqi security forces already have more than 2,000 up-armored Humvees, a division of tanks and mechanized vehicles and a brigade of Armored Security Vehicles, the official said in a Friday e-mail to Stripes.

“Having said that, General McCaffrey’s right, and there are plans to steadily increase the armament of the ISF ensuring that it is done in a manner that ensures that there is sufficient maintenance, spare parts, training, etc. so that all the new systems don’t become ‘hangar queens’ in short order,” the official said.

See the full report.

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