- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced yesterday a long-term plan for rotating tens of thousands of fresh troops into Iraq, but he said the overall number of Americans will decline and not increase as Iraqis do more of the fighting.

“The combat units serving in Iraq and most of the supporting units in the theater will be replaced over the coming months,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

The rotation will began in January and end in the spring, when the number of American troops is expected to decline from today’s 130,000 to 100,000.

The plan basically calls for swapping out big divisions now doing the brunt of combat in Iraq: the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad; the 4th Infantry Division in the Sunni Triangle around Tikrit; the 82nd Airborne in the west around Fallujah; and the 101st Airborne Division, which occupies northern Iraq and played a major role in the March and April push to Baghdad.

Those divisions will be replaced by the Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Germany and 1st Cavalry Division in Texas, and the 1st Marine Division, based in California. That division will be returning to Iraq, where its Marines staged a rapid advance to Baghdad from the southeast and entered the Iraqi capital on April 9.

The Army’s 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii will send a brigade to Iraq. The rest of the division will go to Afghanistan to relieve the 10th Mountain Division now fighting Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents. The Pentagon has alerted 43,000 National Guard and Reserve troops that they may be called up to support the U.S. forces.

The Pentagon did not expect to be fighting a guerrilla war in Iraq at this stage. It has struggled to find a way to send in fresh troops while maintaining security commitments in other parts of the world.

In all, there are 275,000 security forces in Iraq, counting 118,000 Iraqis who have been trained as police, border guards and soldiers.

“Iraq clearly is now the second-largest contributor of personnel to the coalition forces, after the United States, and soon Iraqi forces will outnumber U.S. forces,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld again rejected calls from some members of Congress to increase the U.S. troop presence. “I have not been told of a single military commander in [U.S. Central Command] in Iraq who is recommending additional U.S. military forces. Not one,” the defense secretary said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a Vietnam War veteran, lashed out at President Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld on Wednesday, saying they were mismanaging the war. Mr. McCain called for 15,000 additional U.S. troops to go to Iraq.

The defense secretary also said it was important not to leave Iraq too soon. “The president is solid as a rock on this,” he said. “And the task is not to find a way to leave the country precipitously. … The task is to see how, at what pace, we’re able to see the Iraqi people take over responsibilities for their essential services, take over forces in uncovering weapons.”

Soldiers in Iraq are facing some of the most dangerous combat operations in the two-year global war on terrorism. On Sunday, guerrillas used shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, killing 15 soldiers in the most deadly incident so far for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said a young Iraqi had recently turned in 16 SA-7s, the Soviet-designed hand-held missile of the type believed to have shot down the Chinook. An intelligence source said thousands of such weapons might be hidden in Iraq.

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