- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

2:03 p.m.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq told a Senate panel today that improving security in Baghdad would take fewer than half as many extra troops as President Bush has chosen to commit.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be Army chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said he had asked for two additional Army brigades, based on recommendations of his subordinate commanders. Mr. Bush announced Jan. 10 that he would send five extra brigades as part of a buildup that would total 21,500 soldiers and Marines.

Gen. Casey did not say he opposed the president’s decision. He said the full complement of five brigades would give U.S. commanders in Iraq additional, useful flexibility.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, asked Gen. Casey whether he thought the mission in Baghdad could be accomplished with fewer than five extra brigades.

“I believe that the job in Baghdad, as it’s designed now, can be done with less than that,” Gen. Casey said, “but having the flexibility to have the other three brigades on a deployment cycle gives us and gives General Petraeus great flexibility.”

“It allows him to make assessments on whether the plan is working or not and to either reinforce success, maintain momentum, or put more forces in a place where the plans are not working,” Gen. Casey said, referring to his designated successor, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Mr. McCain criticized Gen. Casey for what he called misjudgments about the prospects for progress toward stabilizing Iraq during his tenure. Mr. McCain said he has “strong reservations” about Gen. Casey’s nomination to become the next Army chief of staff.

“While I don’t in any way question your honor, your patriotism or your service to our country, I do question some of the decisions, the judgments you’ve made over the past two and a half years,” Mr. McCain said. “During that time, things have gotten markedly and progressively worse.”

The proposed Senate resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s troop buildup is likely to pose a threat to the White House because of its potential appeal to Republicans who have grown tired of the nearly four-year war and want a chance to express their concerns. The White House has been hoping to avoid an overwhelming congressional vote criticizing the president’s handling of the war.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, agreed yesterday to offer a resolution that would oppose Mr. Bush’s decision to send more troops into Iraq but protect funding for them.

At today’s hearing, Mr. Warner pressed Gen. Casey on why so many additional U.S. forces should be added to the fight in Baghdad.

“Why are we not putting greater emphasis on utilization of Iraqi forces and less on the U.S. GI being put into that cauldron of terror?” Mr. Warner asked, adding that he hoped at least some of the 21,500 extra troops will not be sent. The last of the five extra brigades is scheduled to go in May.

Gen. Casey said Iraqis are taking more of a lead role but are not yet ready to fight without U.S. support.

At the White House, presidential spokesman Tony Snow was asked whether the administration is resigned to seeing Congress approve some form of resolution opposing a troop buildup.

“We’re not resigned to anything,” Mr. Snow said. “We’re determined to move forward toward success in Iraq. Again, rather than trying to pull out the crystal ball, let’s just see what happens on the Hill.”

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