The Pentagon announced yesterday it will maintain its expanded force of 138,000 troops in Iraq at least through 2005, based on a request from Gen. John Abizaid, commander of forces in the region.
That level was attained by extending the tours of 20,000 troops already in Iraq and who now must be relieved from a larger replacement force.
The military has begun notifying about 10,000 active-duty Army and Marine Corps troops and about 37,000 in the National Guard soldiers to prepare to deploy to Iraq as part of the buildup, defense officials said.
The additional troops will replace the 20,000 whose deployment was extended.
“General Abizaid has now indicated his desire to retain the current level of forces in Iraq, roughly 135,000 to 138,000 forces, for longer than the 90 days that we recently extended about 20,000 forces to get up to that higher figure,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
On Fallujah, Mr. Rumsfeld said an Iraqi government force of about 1,000 people headed by an Iraqi general has been set up to help end fighting in the city.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the new Iraqi force agrees with the U.S. “red line” demands to get terrorists in the city and to find the killers of American civilian workers slain in March.
“And if it happens by force, by the U.S. Marines, then it happens by force,” he said.
“If it happens by virtue of these 50, 60, 70, 80 Sunnis, sheiks and civic leaders and people in three or four different groups that have been encouraging this process, and it’s done in a more peaceful way, then it will be done in a more peaceful way. But one way or another, it will be done,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The dispatch of additional troops is a sign that Iraq remains more unstable than officials expected. Initially, the Pentagon had hoped to limit the size of the U.S. military force in Iraq to about 115,000 troops. There are about 20,000 more foreign troops in Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he recently approved sending 10,000 new troops to Iraq and “other units are now being identified and will be approved in the coming days.”
The additional forces will be kept in the country because increased fighting broke out in Iraq over the past month, including intense fighting in Fallujah by former regime elements and foreign fighters.
Other battles have taken place recently between U.S. and coalition forces and militia linked to Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr.
The additional forces will be kept in Iraq through 2005, defense officials said.
“You’re going to have a period of uncertainty from now, and you’re also going to have a period of increased attacks,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, referring to what he called a period of transition.
The increased troop level followed a deadly month for U.S. troops. A total of 129 soldiers were killed in April.
The 10,000 new active-duty troops will come in two groups from the Marine Corps and the Army’s 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, New York.
The 37,000 National Guard and Reserve troops are expected to be deployed later this year and early in 2005.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.