- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

The Pentagon yesterday said 92,000 troops will go to Iraq beginning in mid-2006 to relieve personnel now there, but warned that the list of units it will deploy is not final and does not reflect a decision to increase or decrease overall troop levels.

The U.S. has about 160,000 soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors in Iraq, a force that will likely stay put for the Dec. 15 elections of a permanent Iraqi government. That number was temporarily inflated from a 138,000-member force that had stayed constant for much of this year and is considered a base line from which to either make increases or withdrawals next year.

In all likelihood, the force will return to the 138,000 base line in early 2006. The Pentagon announcement does not include major Marine units, which deploy every six months. Major Army units spend a year or more in Iraq.

The big question facing Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, is whether the political and military situation next spring will enable him to recommend troop reductions to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The equation for reductions rests largely on being able to stand up a large Iraqi security force, which numbers more than 220,000, and limit the capability of terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists to unleash scores of deadly attacks each day.

“As conditions on the ground there permit and require, obviously the commanders on the ground will recommend that coalition forces and U.S. forces pare down as responsibility is transferred over to Iraqis,” said Mr. Rumsfeld, noting that a number of Baghdad neighborhoods had been turned over to local control.

The replacement units comprise 92,000 personnel from divisions in Hawaii, Germany, Washington state, North Carolina, New York state and Texas. Pentagon officials warned against assuming that the smaller number means a smaller force, saying the list is not final and additional units can be notified in the future.

Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing at a press conference with British Defense Minister John Reid, said, “I would caution that it would be a mistake to draw conclusions about such matters when reviewing the force rotation announcements.”

In recent months, the Pentagon has attempted to dampen speculation about huge U.S. troop withdrawals next year. Gen. Casey originally spoke of “substantial” cuts. But he backtracked in September, noting that the U.S. could not attract sufficient Sunni leaders to endorse a new constitution.

U.S. Marines, whose sector includes the volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad, have begun another in a series of operations along the Syrian border to rid villages of foreign fighters.

“We know that a number of people are being captured and killed,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “We know that caches are being found. We know that there are locals in that portion of Iraq that are cooperating extensively with our people.”

The new rotating troops include the headquarters staff and one brigade of the 24th Infantry Division, Hawaii, and brigades from the 1st and 2nd infantry divisions, and from the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain divisions.

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