NBC: 20,000 U.S.-bound troops to stay in Iraq

/ Source: NBC News and news services

Pentagon officials told NBC News on Tuesday that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will order that up to 20,000 American troops, forces now preparing to rotate out of Iraq, will  remain there for as long as an additional three months to help combat the current spike in violence.

That number is about 10,000 more troops than U.S. commanders in Baghdad indicated Rumsfeld may require in the short term when Rumsfeld talked recently about a request for an additional two combat brigades.

That could include soldiers from the Army's 1st Armored Division, the 82nd Airborne Division and logistics forces.

If those troops leave after three months, that could leave a gap of some two to three months before the next large rotation of troops begins in the fall, so Rumsfeld must also decide if he should order additional troops into Iraq temporarily or if he should move up the next rotation of troops to fill that gap period.

Earlier this week, Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said he had asked Rumsfeld to adjust the U.S. troop rotation into and out of Iraq this spring so U.S. commanders can have the use of perhaps 10,000 more soldiers than they otherwise would have.

Abizaid strongly suggested that the request would involve keeping at least part of the 1st Armored in Iraq longer than planned. The division had been scheduled to transfer responsibility for operations in the Baghdad area to the 1st Cavalry Division this week and then begin returning to its home bases in the United States.