- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S.-trained Iraqi police and military forces will handle most of the security duties during nationwide voting in October and December, so the American military is likely to send only a few thousand extra troops to Iraq for that mission, a senior U.S. commander said yesterday.

Some officials had indicated recently that up to 20,000 extra U.S. troops might be needed during the voting.

Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said he expected to need no more than 2,000 extra troops because there are thousands more Iraqi troops available than during January’s election.

The Pentagon says Iraq has about 180,000 recruits in its security forces now, compared with about 130,000 in January.

Gen. Vines’ comment comes at a juncture in the Iraq conflict that has seen waning public patience for U.S. casualties and increased political pressure on President Bush to show progress in stabilizing Iraq. It also comes amid added strains on the U.S. military from hurricane rescue and relief efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The United States has about 140,900 troops in Iraq, according to Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman. The number fluctuates by a thousand or so daily because a large rotation of forces is under way.

“There will be very little overall change in the numbers,” Gen. Vines said, noting that an extra 1,500 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., already have been tapped for temporary duty in Iraq.

“The number 140,000 is probably about right” for the election period, he added.

Gen. Vines, who also is commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, based at Fort Bragg, spoke from Baghdad in a video teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon.

U.S. officials have said they expect the insurgents in Iraq to escalate attacks in the hope of stopping a national referendum on the draft constitution Oct. 15 and the election of a new government, based on the constitution, in December.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said yesterday that recommendations on adjustments to U.S. troop levels in Iraq would be made by Gen. Vines’ boss, Gen. George Casey, who is the top commander in the country, and by Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

It had been thought that if a large number of extra U.S. troops were needed in Iraq this fall, the increase would be accomplished mainly by extending the tours of units nearing the completion of their one-year stints and possibly bringing some units in earlier than originally scheduled. Gen. Vines, however, said there would be little of that.

“There are a few units, very few units, that we probably will have to adjust their time here in country by just a few days — in no case more than a week to 10 days,” Gen. Vines said. “And many of them will get home exactly on schedule.”

Gen. Vines also said U.S. troops in Iraq whose family members were injured or killed by Hurricane Katrina may be allowed to go home, but those who have no confirmed casualties among family members will have to stay in Iraq.

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