WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is projecting that when the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq ends in July there will be about 8,000 more troops on the ground than when it 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.
Ham also announced that the Pentagon thinks U.S. force levels in Afghanistan will stand at 32,000 in late summer, up from about 28,000 currently. The current total is the highest since the war began in October 2001, and another 3,200 Marines are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this spring.
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 stressed that his projected number of 140,000 is subject to change depending on security conditions, but it is the first time the Pentagon has publicly estimated what the total will be.
Among the support forces to be needed beyond July, Ham said, are military police, logistics troops, aviation forces and a headquarters staff to command combat forces in an area south of Baghdad. The headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Division was installed there as part of Bush's "surge" of forces in April; it will be replaced this summer by an unspecified unit, Ham said.
One reason for keeping a higher number of U.S. security forces is that the plan for transitioning responsibility for detention facilities to the Iraqi government "has not progressed as rapidly as we would like," Ham said.