- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress yesterday the Pentagon does not know how many U.S. troops will be in Iraq a year from now.

The Defense Department had estimated it would reduce forces slowly as Iraqi security units took over more antiterrorist and anti-insurgency operations.

But with a spike in violence in Fallujah and southern Iraq, planners have set aside those timetables in favor of month-to-month calculations.

The plan had been to decrease American ground troops to about 115,000 this summer. But Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, last month requested more troops. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the 20,000-member 1st Armored Division to stay in Iraq past a one-year deployment schedule. The troop count now stands at about 140,000.

“We don’t know what it’ll be,” Mr. Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when asked how much longer forces will stay in Iraq. “We’ve had changes, as you know, month by month. We have several different plans to be able to deal with the different levels that might be required. Our current level is higher than we had planned for this time, this year.”

The Pentagon announced this week that it is sending another batch of fresh troops to Iraq — this time, a 4,000-member brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea.

The Bush administration had hoped to draw a new influx of foreign force contributions. But Mr. Wolfowitz and another witness, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, said Europe probably has produced all the troops it can and no Middle Eastern country has shown interest.

“I went around through the Gulf,” said Mr. Armitage. “We didn’t specifically ask for forces, but there’s a lot of neuralgia that exists in Iraq, evolving around the neighbors. I think it might be a little premature.”

Mr. Wolfowitz added that “NATO has an important role and has made a lot of commitments,” but it is “having some trouble meeting some of their commitments even in Afghanistan.”

The continued violence and uncertainly over the number of troops in Iraq brought new charges from committee Democrats that Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz did a poor job of planning for post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

“There wasn’t a serious plan,” said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat. “And I think at this point, we’re paying a serious price for it.”

Mr. Wolfowitz responded that “there was a serious plan. … A lot of thought went into it.”

More than 770 U.S. service members have been killed in action since the war began on March 19, 2003. Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged last month for the first time that the rate of deaths is higher than he thought it would be one year after Baghdad fell to the coalition.

The coalition plans to turn over sovereignty to an appointed Iraqi government July 1, leading to elections next year. But all indications point to an extended stay by U.S. troops, who will retain the autonomy they need to attack insurgents and foreign terrorists.

Mr. Armitage said a series of local elections already have resulted in more than 60,000 elected Iraqi officials at the city and town level.

“It’s not a position that comes without some danger,” he said, referring to the fact that Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters are targeting any citizen who cooperates in the democracy movement.

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