- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday U.S. troop numbers will have to increase again to deal with heightened security for the next round of elections in Iraq, but would then decrease.

The Pentagon expanded to 150,000 from 138,000 the U.S. troops level for the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections. It is now drawing the number back down to 138,000 for the next eight months.

But Mr. Rumsfeld said he will have to temporarily increase them again for elections in December when the Iraqi government puts a new constitution to voters.

“During that period, armed forces — total, everybody’s, coalition and Iraqi — will undoubtedly bulge somewhat during those key election periods,” Mr. Rumsfeld told a “town hall” gathering of Pentagon employees.

“But in the aggregate over time, one would think the non-Iraqi members of the coalition could adjust downward as the capabilities of the Iraqis increase.”

The Iraqi Security Forces now stand at 140,000, moving toward a force of more than 200,000. Today is the two-year anniversary of invading Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. troop level in Iraq is a hot political topic in Washington. Democrats have pressed the Bush administration for a withdrawal timetable. But Mr. Rumsfeld and President Bush have refused. Officials contend that set dates signal to the deadly Iraqi insurgency that they can simply play a waiting game, then mount a new offensive when U.S. soldiers exit.

As Mr. Rumsfeld spoke, the Pentagon released its annual National Defense Strategy, which sets out in general terms how the armed forces will conduct the war on Islamic terrorists and other threats.

The September 11 attacks prodded Mr. Bush to become an interventionist president. The updated strategy puts rogue nations on notice that more intervention may lie ahead.

“It is unacceptable for regimes to use the principle of sovereignty as a shield behind which they claim to be free to engage in activities that pose enormous threats to their citizens, neighbors or the rest of the international community,” the strategy states.

Mr. Bush has warned Iran not to develop nuclear weapons and has not ruled out some kind of military action to stop a regime that Washington says is a top terrorist supporter.

The strategy says the United States faces four types of threats — traditional, irregular, catastrophic and disruptive.

“Terrorist groups like al Qaeda are irregular threats, but also actively seek catastrophic capabilities,” the document says.

The paper is a prelude to the much more specific Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which sets the size and components of the armed forces to meet global commitments. The current 2001 QDR says the military must have the forces to fight two major wars nearly simultaneously, and carry out other smaller missions. With the war on terrorism, the QDR’s overriding requirement could be changed to match the need to fight terror cells and nuclear proliferation, not large armies, say U.S. officials.

“This framework and these standards will be reviewed in the 2005 QDR,” the strategy states.

The military is also in the throes of a top-to-bottom transformation that sees the Army breaking down into smaller, lighter combat brigades, and troops being reduced and repositioned in Europe and in Asia.

The Army has seen two major weapons systems — an artillery cannon and attack helicopter — canceled in favor of more futuristic ones. The Navy is reducing the fleet on the grounds it can keep at sea a larger percentage of ships.

The Army rotates combat brigades in and out of Iraq in one-year tours, the Marine Corps for six months. Army officials say 2006 will likely be the first time the 138,000 mark can be pushed lower when brigades are scheduled to rotate a year from now.

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