- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

BAGHDAD (AP) — The issue of U.S. troop levels echoed from Baghdad to Washington yesterday, with Sen. John McCain calling for the deployment of 15,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq, and the Army’s top general warning that his force “will break” without thousands more active-duty soldiers and greater use of the reserves.

Mr. McCain, who was visiting Baghdad with five other senators, said he realizes that few Americans favor deploying more U.S. troops to Iraq and that if such a move proved unsuccessful, it could hurt his presidential ambitions. But he said that if U.S. troops leave Iraq in chaos, groups such as al Qaeda “will follow us home and that we will have a large conflict and greater challenges than those that we now face here in Iraq.”

“The American people are confused, they’re frustrated, they’re disappointed by the Iraq war, but they also want us to succeed if there’s any way to do that,” the Arizona Republican told reporters in Baghdad.

Mr. McCain’s position puts him at odds with the Iraq Study Group, which recommended withdrawing a substantial number of U.S. troops in the coming year. The Army, in recent days, has been looking at how many additional troops could be sent to Iraq if President Bush decides a surge in forces would be helpful.

Army officials say that only about 10,000 to 15,000 more troops could be sent and that an end to the war would have to be in sight because the deployment would drain the pool of available soldiers for combat. Currently, the U.S. military has about 140,000 troops in Iraq.

Further, many officials warn, there is no guarantee that a surge in troops would settle the violence.

“We would not surge without a purpose,” the Army’s top general, Peter J. Schoomaker, told reporters in Washington. “And that purpose should be measurable.”

Noting the strain put on the force by operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the global war on terrorism, Gen. Schoomaker said he wants to increase the half-million-member Army beyond the 30,000 troops already added in recent years. Although he didn’t give an exact number, he said it would take significant time and commitment by the nation, noting that about 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be added per year.

Officials also need greater authority to tap into the National Guard and Reserve, long ago set up as a strategic reserve but now needed as an integral part of the nation’s deployed forces, Gen. Schoomaker told a commission studying possible changes in those two forces.

“Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand … is placing a strain on the Army’s all-volunteer force,” Gen. Schoomaker told the commission in a Capitol Hill hearing. “At this pace … we will break the active component” unless reserves can be called up more to help, Gen. Schoomaker said in prepared remarks.

Mr. McCain said conditions in some areas of Iraq have improved since his visit in March, but “I believe there is still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar province in order to bring the sectarian violence under control” and to “allow the political process to proceed.”

Two other senators in the delegation, Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, agreed.

“We need more, not less, U.S. troops here,” said Mr. Lieberman, who won his re-election bid last month as an independent.

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