WASHINGTON — As many as 5,000 additional U.S. troops with armored vehicles and tanks will be sent into Baghdad under a plan being developed by military commanders to stem escalating violence in the Iraqi capital, defense officials say.
The plan by commanders in Iraq, which has not been finalized, could bring the total number of U.S. troops there to 134,000, if all are deployed. It also would call into question whether the Pentagon could significantly reduce troop levels in Iraq by year’s end as commanders had hoped.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday extended the tours of some 3,500 members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The unit, which has been serving in northern Iraq, was scheduled to be leaving now. Instead, most of its 3,900 troops will serve for up to four more months. It was unclear whether the unit would go to Baghdad.
Under the plan to bolster Baghdad’s security, U.S. troops would be teamed with Iraqi police and army units and make virtually every operation in the city a joint effort, one military official said. Another said movement of some troops into Baghdad had already begun.
At the same time, the Pentagon signaled plans to maintain or possibly increase the current level of about 130,000 troops in Iraq, by announcing that roughly 21,000 Army soldiers and Marines have been told they are scheduled to go to Iraq during the current 2006-2008 rotation.
Soldiers' flights out canceled
All flights out for soldiers currently at the end of their deployment were canceled as of Tuesday, as commanders wrestled how to supply troops for the effort, a third official said.
All spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan had not been finalized.
President Bush broadly outlined a plan to increase U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad during Tuesday’s visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But little detail was provided.
Officials said it would involve shifting some U.S. forces to the capital from other locations in the country. There were about 30,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad prior to the new plan.
On Thursday, Rumsfeld met privately with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss funding needed for troops and the replacement or repair of equipment damaged in combat. House and Senate Republicans are weighing next year’s defense spending bills amid reports that Army units are woefully ill-equipped and need billions of dollars to recover from the war.
“There is no question that resetting the force after the heavy usage that’s occurred costs money and will have to be funded in supplementals for a period of time,” said Rumsfeld, who predicted that funds may be needed for up to three years after the war ends.
Assembling more troops and armor in Baghdad is aimed at calming sectarian violence that has increased in the capital since mid-June, when al-Maliki launched a broad security crackdown.
The plan includes moving about four companies of military police, or about 400 soldiers, to Baghdad, along with the remainder of a reserve force that had been in Kuwait — equaling about another 400 troops.
Experts divided on plan's chances
Defense experts inside and outside the Pentagon have said that diverting U.S. troops to Baghdad could weaken their ability in other parts of the country. And they say the plan reverses an earlier effort to make Americans less visible and put Iraqi forces out front in the fight.
Others argued that Baghdad is the central problem at the moment and that Iraqis in the capital will feel safer with the heavier armored presence.
While about 3,500 members of the Stryker brigade were still in Iraq on Thursday, about 200 had returned to Alaska and some 200 others were in Kuwait awaiting transportation home.
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