Pentagon plans for possible troop increase in Iraq

Some units may be able to go there `immediately'

April 21, 2004|By Craig Gordon | Craig Gordon,NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON - Top Pentagon officials are drawing up plans in case the United States needs to increase U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the 135,000 there now, identifying units that could go "essentially immediately," the nation's top uniformed officer said.

Any increase would be in addition to the 20,000 soldiers already in Iraq who were ordered last week to put off their departures an additional 90 days amid the post-war period's bloodiest month for Americans.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made clear yesterday that the Pentagon is making preparations not merely for possibly holding over more troops already in Iraq but adding to the total U.S. forces on the ground.

That has been a politically contentious issue that Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration have resisted fiercely, despite calls from many in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to send in more troops to put down anti-American violence that has killed 100 U.S. troops this month.

Both Myers and Rumsfeld stressed that no request for an increase has come from Gen. John Abizaid, the overall U.S. commander in Iraq. Myers indicated, however, that the planning was relatively advanced in terms of which units would get the call should Abizaid need additional forces.

"We have done a scrub of forces that could be available, essentially immediately, in the next few weeks to the next couple of months, in case we need more forces," Myers told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Rumsfeld also sought to downplay the likelihood of increasing troops in Iraq. "The answer is, are we considering it? No. But have we prepared? You bet," he said.

One of the deadliest hotspots for American forces has been in and around the Sunni region in Fallujah. Rumsfeld said yesterday that the current cease-fire won't continue indefinitely if negotiations don't produce progress on bringing insurgents to justice, particularly those responsible for killing four American contractors.

The U.S. efforts in Iraq took a blow this month when Spain said it will withdraw its 1,300 troops there and Honduras said it would take out 370 more. The Dominican Republic also announced that it would pull its troops out of Iraq early, in the next few weeks.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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