If violence in Iraq gets worse, U.S. military commanders will get the troops they need to deal with it, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
Coalition forces fought on two fronts Tuesday, battling a Shiite-inspired uprising in southern Iraq and Sunni insurgents in the city of Fallujah in clashes that have killed dozens of American troops and at least 100 Iraqis since the weekend.
Commanders are studying ways they might increase troops in Iraq if violence should spread much more widely, defense officials said.
Among the options are the following:
- Troops already inside Iraq could be moved around.
- Troops eventually headed for Iraq, now training in nearby Kuwait, could be sent early.
- More troops could be sent from the United States — either reservists or active duty troops who have already served.
More international forces sought
Officials said they also are talking to six more countries about the possibility of contributing forces. Such talks have continued throughout the campaign but have brought in only 24,000 international troops, compared with 135,000 Americans in Iraq.
“I’m fearful of sending more American troops who will be drawn from the Guard and reserve forces once again,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. “That’s when we’re going to exacerbate what I believe is a looming retention and recruitment problem.”
Nelson said, however, that American forces must remain committed.
Noting the Pentagon may have to send more troops, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said: “The bottom line is that we have no good options. This is complicated, and it is unpredictable and very dangerous.”
Gen. John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, and other senior generals ordered their staffs to study options after the outbreak of violence from a previously relatively quiet sector of Iraq: members of the Shiite sect of Islam. Most violence so far has been attributed to Sunni Muslims — either members of Saddam’s Sunni-led government or extremists who follow al-Qaida.
'They will get what they need'
Rumsfeld said commanders on the scene, including Abizaid, are constantly reviewing the situation and troop needs.
“They are the ones whose advice we follow on these things,” Rumsfeld said during an appearance in Norfolk, Va., with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
“They will decide what they need, and they will get what they need,” Rumsfeld said.
The 135,000 total of U.S. troops in Iraq is “an unusually high level,” Rumsfeld said. American officials had expected the figure to go down to about 115,000 when a series of rotations of new troops into and older troops out of the country was complete, Rumsfeld said.
“The commanders are using the excess forces that happen to be in there because of the deployment process,” Rumsfeld said.
Some 200,000 Iraqis have been hired for a new Iraqi army, as police, border security, guards at infrastructure and so on. But it will take months before most are sufficiently trained and equipped to handle the violence, Abizaid has said.
Rumsfeld said there is a possibility that NATO will help in Iraq. The alliance has a peacekeeping force of 6,500 in Afghanistan and is expanding its work there.
“I suspect that we’ll see — I would be delighted to see — NATO take a larger role ... in Afghanistan, then Iraq,” Rumsfeld said. De Hoop Scheffer said that Afghanistan remains NATO’s top priority.