Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is casting doubt on a plan under consideration by President Bush that would increase troops in Iraq, calling the U.S. Army overextended and "about broken."
The incoming Senate majority leader, however, offered qualified support for a troop surge, saying it would be acceptable for a few months as part of a broader strategy to bring combat forces home by 2008.
"If the commanders on the ground said this is just for a short period of time, we'll go along with that," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., citing a time frame such as two months to three months. But a period of 18 months to 24 months would be too long, he said.
Iraqi troops 'insufficient, incompetent... corrupted'
Bush is reviewing options for a change of course in Iraq and plans to address the nation in early January.
On Sunday, Iraq's Sunni vice president called for more American soldiers in Baghdad to quell sectarian violence - even though the Shiite-dominated government has proposed shifting U.S. troops to the capital's periphery and having Iraqis assume primary responsibility for security in the city.
"Who is going to replace the American troops?" asked Tariq al-Hashemi, who met with Bush in Washington last week. "Iraqi troops, across the board, they are insufficient, incompetent, and many of them corrupted."
There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and about 5,000 advisers. Combat troops make up less than half of U.S. forces in Iraq.
U.S. troop responsibilities
Powell, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman for the first President Bush during the 1991 Gulf War, said if more troops were proposed, commanders would have to make their mission clear, determine whether they can accomplish it and what size force is appropriate.
"I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work," said Powell, who was secretary of state from 2001 to 2005. "We have to be very, very careful in this instance not just to grab a number out of the air."
Increasing troops would run counter to recent recommendations by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which set a goal of withdrawing combat troops by early 2008 in support of more aggressive regional diplomacy.
Powell said that U.S. troops should not act as policemen. He described the U.S. Army as "about broken," with a shortage of equipment, officers going on repetitive tours and gaps in military coverage elsewhere in the world.
"The current active Army is not large enough and the Marine Corps is not large enough for the kinds of missions they're being asked to perform," he said. "And the Congress has a serious task ahead of it, to make sure that the Army and the Marine Corps get the funds they need to sustain themselves and to sustain their equipment and their ammunition."
Reid, whose party campaigned this fall on changing course in Iraq, said he would be open only to a short-term troop increase.
"The American people will not allow this war to go on as it has. It simply is a war that will not be won militarily. It can only be won politically," he said.
At least three other Democrats did not support Reid's position on the additional troops.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said that if it were a short-term increase, "won't our adversaries simply adjust their tactics, wait us out and wait until we reduce again? So I think you'd have to ask very serious questions about the utility of this."
Added Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., "I respect Harry Reid on it, but that's not where I am."
Kennedy, like Reed a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there would be widespread opposition by members of his committee if Bush proposed a troop increase.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said any proposal to send more troops should only follow a political solution that will end civil unrest.
"The president and others who support the surge have it exactly backwards," he said.
Reid spoke on ABC's "This Week," Kennedy was on "Fox News Sunday," Powell appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" and Reed and al-Hashemi were on "Late Edition" on CNN.