Troop rotations, foreign forces will ease U.S. burden in Iraq
WASHINGTON -- Some of the longest-serving U.S. troops in Iraq will return home soon and more countries will be providing soldiers to ease the burden on American forces who are increasingly under attack, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told senators Wednesday.
But Democrats questioned whether the Bush administration has a clear strategy for rotating troops in and out of Iraq and has done enough to win troop commitments from the NATO military alliance.
"I'm now concerned that we have the world's best trained soldiers serving as policemen in what seems to be a shooting gallery," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
For almost four hours, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks, who until Monday served as head of U.S. Central Command, about the growing violence against U.S. forces and efforts to find Saddam Hussein and locate weapons of mass destruction.
Asked how long U.S. troops would have to stay in Iraq, Rumsfeld said nobody knows.
"We intend to see it through and it's going to take some patience," he said. "And when it's done it's going to be darn well worth having done."
He said he expects to receive a report this week from Central Command with recommendations for troop rotations in Iraq. Rumsfeld said 142,000 U.S. troops that had been assigned to Iraq had been redeployed.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, said 1,044 American servicemen and women have been wounded in action or injured since the war in Iraq began March 20. Of that total, 382 have been wounded or injured since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1, according to the Pentagon's figures. Of the 212 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the war began, 74 died after May 1.
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division is beginning a phased pullout of its 16,000 troops, with the entire unit expected back in the United States by September, he said. The division, which played a central role in capturing Baghdad in April, is based at Fort Stewart, Ga.
Rumsfeld said the division's 3rd Brigade has already reached Kuwait and will be heading home this month. The 2nd Brigade, which had been in the region for 10 months, will be home in August and the 1st Brigade will return in September. He said each of the final two brigades to leave Iraq will have been in the Gulf region for 10 months by the time they depart.
In the immediate aftermath of the toppling of Saddam's government in April, it was expected that the 3rd Infantry Division would go home by June. But the soldiers were kept longer because of a surge of anti-U.S. violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in central Iraq.
Rumsfeld said there are now 148,000 American troops in Iraq. He did not say whether the 3rd Infantry Division would be replaced by another U.S. unit, although he said he expects thousands of international soldiers to begin operating in the country by late summer or early fall.
Rumsfeld said 19,000 coalition forces from 19 countries are on the ground. Another 19 countries have committed a total of 11,000 troops, which would bring the total to 30,000. Also, discussions are under way with 11 other countries. Franks said talks were continuing with Pakistan and India.
Democrats pressed Rumsfeld about whether the administration specifically requested forces from NATO. Rumsfeld said his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, made a formal request for postwar assistance in December
"None since the war?" asked Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's top Democrat.
"I have no idea," Rumsfeld said, offering to find out.
On the violence against U.S. troops, Rumsfeld rejected the "widely held impression that regime loyalists are operating freely." He said large portions of Iraq are stable.
"The problem is real, but it is being dealt with in an orderly and forceful fashion by coalition forces," he said.
Franks said the attacks are probably related to a U.S. offensive. "I suspect that we're seeing increased violence in some of these areas because we are more present," he said.
Franks also said Iran's intelligence service appears to be trying to influence activities in Iraq. Rumsfeld said there were reports that Iran was moving border posts several kilometers inside Iraq.
"Certainly that is behavior that is not acceptable and they should be staying on their side of the border," Rumsfeld said.
Asked about the importance of capturing or killing Saddam, Rumsfeld said, "The idea that we would leave too soon and Saddam Hussein come back is not a realistic concern that anyone ought to have. Saddam Hussein's not coming back."