- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

Pentagon plans to rotate U.S. troops out of Iraq should not be misread as an exit strategy, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.

“The objective is not to leave. The objective is to succeed in our mission,” Mr. Rumsfeld told an organization of foreign reporters in Washington.

The Pentagon last week announced a troop-rotation plan that would have 100,000 American forces in Iraq by May, a reduction of 30,000 from the current strength. Some lawmakers and pundits interpreted the downsizing as the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal, and they wondered if it was the right signal to send to Saddam Hussein’s guerrilla fighters.

Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday restated the mission to stay in Iraq until a democratic government takes hold.

“Let me be clear. The goal is not to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Iraq,” the defense secretary said. “It’s not to develop an exit strategy. Our exit strategy in Iraq is success. It’s that simple.”

While the overall number of U.S. troops will decline, the Pentagon says, the number of security forces will increase as more Iraqis are trained as police, border patrol guards and soldiers. About 118,000 Iraqis now are serving in those roles, with a target of 220,000 sometime next year.

“When young Iraqis study the history of Iraq’s liberation, they will read that foreign troops were not the only ones who fought and died for the liberation of the 23 million Iraqi people,” he said. “[Iraqis] struggled and sacrificed for their country’s freedom as well.”

More than 30 American troops have been killed this month in combat operations against a resistance force that seems to be getting more organized and brazen. Guerrillas have downed two Army helicopters, killing 22 soldiers, and attacked a downtown Baghdad hotel.

Still, U.S. commanders are confident they will break the resistance. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has responded to attacks by sending soldiers on a series of raids over the weekend to capture or kill the guerrillas.

Mr. Rumsfeld leaves tomorrow for talks in Japan and South Korea on future U.S. troop strengths in Asia. He is looking at options for reducing the 37,000 troops in South Korea, while moving some away from the tense demilitarized zone with North Korea.

The defense secretary says fewer ground troops are needed today to accomplish U.S. military missions.

“You tended to equate troops with military power and I think that’s not, probably, appropriate in the 21st century,” he said. In Iraq, “our forces operated in a totally joint, combined way, connected, and there was a great advantage of leverage that resulted from it. The lethality of U.S. capability has soared in recent years.”

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week told reporters that if the commanders responsible for Iraq want more troops, they will get them.

“Anytime during that time frame that the situation changes or that General [John] Abizaid [U.S. Central Command head] or General Sanchez believe they need more forces, they are either going to get to keep the ones that are there or we’ll send them more,” Gen. Pace said. “But we will stay with this in the way that the combatant commanders in the field need to be supported.”

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