- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

DIWANIYAH, Iraq — The top U.S. commander in Iraq acknowledged yesterday that the U.S. Army was stretched, but he insisted forces were capable of accomplishing their mission and any recommendation to reduce troops further would be dictated by the situation on the battlefield.

U.S. officials said Gen. George Casey was speaking about the Army in general and not specifically about the 136,000-strong force in Iraq.

“The forces are stretched … and I don’t think there’s any question of that,” Gen. Casey told reporters. “But the Army has been for the last several years going through a modernization strategy that will produce more units and more ready units.”

Gen. Casey said he had discussed manpower strains with Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker on Wednesday and that the Army chief of staff thinks he can sustain missions around the world. Gen. Casey insisted the troops in Iraq are getting the job done.

“So, yep, folks are stretched here but they certainly accomplish their mission, and the forces that you’ve seen on the ground are absolutely magnificent,” he added.

In Washington, President Bush brushed aside talk that the United States could not prevail in Iraq.

“If the question is whether or not we can win victory in Iraq, our commanders will have the troops necessary to do that. If the question is: Can we help keep the peace in a place like the Far East? Absolutely,” Mr. Bush told reporters.

“And let me use the Far East as an example of what I’m talking about,” the president continued. “There were some 30,000 on the South Korean Peninsula. As you might remember, we reduced the amount of manpower and replaced it with technology.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. command announced that two more American soldiers died Wednesday — one in a bombing south of Baghdad and a second of wounds suffered in a rocket attack in Ramadi.

The military yesterday released five female Iraqi detainees, a move demanded by the kidnappers of American reporter Jill Carroll. Officials said the women were part of a group of 420 Iraqis to be released yesterday and today and that their freedom was not connected to efforts to free Miss Carroll, who was seized in Baghdad on Jan. 7.

Gen. Casey spoke after attending a ceremony in which Polish troops transferred leadership of the south-central region of Iraq to Iraqi forces, the first such large-scale transfer since the conflict began in 2003.

The transfer of authority for the sector, which includes about 25 percent of the country, was part of a larger strategy by the U.S.-led coalition to build up Iraqi forces and give them greater role in security.

In a study for the Pentagon, Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to crush the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon’s decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday discounted the report as “either out of date or just misdirected.”

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