U.S. Army officials plan to keep 100,000 troops in Iraq through early 2006, reflecting concern that stabilizing Iraq could be more difficult than originally planned, The New York Times reported Saturday.
THE NEWSPAPER REPORTED that a “senior Army officer” warned that maintaining a force of such size beyond early 2006 would cause the Army to “really start to feel the pain” from stress on overtaxed active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops.
But the Times said another senior military official cautioned that while the senior Army officer’s comments reflected prudent planning, it “has nothing to do with what the security situation on the ground might be in 18 months.”
The newspaper said the Pentagon plans to reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq to 105,000 by May from the current 130,000, and that while some defense officials have raised the possibility of shrinking the force even more next year, the senior officer said planners were assuming the number of U.S. forces in Iraq would probably stay the same when the military begins its third one-year troop rotation in March 2005.
“What we’re looking at doing is making some assumptions with the Marines about sustaining the type of force we’re going to need,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“As you look at this, it wouldn’t seem prudent right now to plan on using a force of less than what is there now, for March ’05.” That force would presumably remain in Iraq until March 2006, although its size could fluctuate, depending on conditions on the ground, the Times said.
The views of senior Army and Marine Corps officers involved in the planning in Washington are important, the report added, because they track and respond to what ground commanders in Iraq say they require.
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