- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Military commanders in Iraq are developing a plan to move as many as 5,000 U.S. troops with armored vehicles and tanks into the country’s capital in an effort to quell escalating violence, defense officials said yesterday.

As part of the plan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday extended the tours of about 3,500 members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. It was scheduled to leave Iraq, but instead, most of its 3,900 troops will serve for up to four more months.

It was not clear whether the Stryker troops, who are in northern Iraq, would be among those going to Baghdad.

Under the plan, U.S. troops would be teamed with Iraqi police and army units and make virtually every operation in Baghdad a joint effort, one military official said. Another said movement of some troops into the city had begun.

All flights out for soldiers currently at the end of their deployment were canceled as of Tuesday, as commanders wrestled with the plan and how to supply troops needed for it, a third official said.

All spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan had not been finalized and discussions were private.

President Bush broadly outlined a plan to increase U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad during a Tuesday visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But little detail was provided.

Officials said the plan would involve shifting some U.S. forces to the capital from other locations in the country. There were about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq yesterday, and about 30,000 were in Baghdad.

Assembling more troops and armor in Baghdad is aimed at calming violence that has only increased in the capital since mid-June, when Mr. al-Maliki started the city’s largest security crackdown since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to give details of the plan, saying the top commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey, “is working through a very tough problem” on how to manage the crackdown with the new resources planned.

Defense analysts inside and outside the Pentagon worry that diverting U.S. troops to Baghdad could weaken their ability in other parts of the country. The analysts also say the plan reverses an earlier effort to make Americans less visible and put Iraqi forces out front in the fight.

Asked whether bringing tanks and armor back to Baghdad would run counter to plans for reducing the visibility of U.S. forces, one military official said: “There is definitely a fine line between overwhelming amounts of combat power versus enough to make you feel safe.

“I don’t think we’re talking a tank on every street corner,” the official said.

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