The Pentagon is projecting that when the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq is over in July there will be about 8,000 more troops on the ground than when the buildup began in January 2007, a senior general said Monday.
Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that by July the troop total is likely to be 140,000. That compares with 132,000 when President Bush approved orders to send an additional five Army brigades to Iraq to improve security and avert civil war.
It had been widely expected that some support troops sent to Iraq with the five extra brigades would need to remain, even after July. But until now it was not clear what their number would be.
Ham said it was not possible to know how long troop levels would stay at 140,000. He noted that the Joint Staff and other military organizations are studying post-July troop levels and will make recommendations to Bush this spring.
So far one of the five extra Army brigades in Iraq has returned without being replaced, reducing the number of brigades from a peak of 20 to 19. Ham said the number would drop to 18 in March. By July it will fall to 15.
Separately, the Pentagon announced that an Army general who was among those thought to be a possible successor to Gen. David Petraeus as the top American commander in Iraq is being given a different assignment.
Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is currently commander of Joint Special Operations Command, heading U.S. special operations in Iraq. In his new assignment, McChrystal will be director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, replacing Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, who has been named the new commander of U.S. forces in South Korea.