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ARLINGTON, Va. — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld left open the possibility Wednesday that troops waiting to rotate out of Iraq could be held back to help handle the increased attacks from militias opposed to U.S. presence in the region.

U.S. forces are in the midst of changes in Iraq, as troops who have stayed for a year are replaced by fresh forces. That gives the United States an advantage for now because there are more troops than there otherwise would be, Rumsfeld said.

“Taking advantage of that increase, we are managing the pace of redeployment to allow those seasoned troops … to see the current situation through,” Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld gave latitude to Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the Central Command, to dictate what troops he would need.

“It is certainly possible that Gen. Abizaid will make a judgment about the kinds of forces he will need during this period,” Rumsfeld said “and since we do have a larger number than normal, that’s certainly an advantage he will use to our benefit.”

Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke late Wednesday at a news conference from the Pentagon.

Myers concurred.

“We’ve always said, from Day 1, before major combat began, that what the combat commander on the ground needs in terms of resources — men, women and materiel — he’ll get. And that’s still the promise today.

“And the numbers in Iraq and the numbers in Afghanistan have varied over time to deal with the situation on the ground and the capability the commander needs. It’s measures we’re considering as we go forward.”

Reports of troops being held in Iraq longer beyond their scheduled departure dates had been called premature earlier Wednesday by several military spokesmen.

“As far as I know, no decision has been made to extend troops at this point,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Army Maj. Dave Farlow said. “We are looking at all options.”

Troops in Iraq have received no official word that the 1st Armored Division will be held longer, said a 1st AD official at Baghdad International Airport who asked not to be identified by name.

The original plan was for the majority of soldiers from the 1st AD’s two Germany-based brigades to return throughout May, replaced by the 1st Cavalry Division, the source said.

“We’re still on course for that. Anything other than that is just a rumor,” he said early Wednesday.

However, the official, who would comment only on the condition of anonymity, added, “that could change tomorrow.”

Another Pentagon official said that U.S. military leaders are planning multiple “courses of action” to deal with a variety of scenarios as the situation in Iraq continues to develop.

The official, who asked not to be named because such planning is the responsibility of U.S. Central Command and the Joint Staff, not his office, said the plans “span the spectrum.”

The plans “go from the best case, which is that this is just an uptick, and we quell events in Fallujah and Ramadi — and oh, by the way, the enemy comes out in the open, where we can get him — in which case we’d need fewer troops than we planned,” the official said Wednesday.

— The Associated Press and Stripes reporter Charlie Coon contributed to this report.


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