President Bush will announce Tuesday the diversion of some U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, in a speech that marks a turn in focus for his administration as it approaches its last four months in office.
“As al Qaeda faces increased pressure in Iraq, the terrorists are stepping up their efforts on the front where this struggle first began: the nation of Afghanistan,” said Mr. Bush’s prepared remarks, which were released to the press Monday evening.
“Afghanistan’s success is critical to the security of America and our partners in the free world. And for all the good work we have done in that country, it is clear we must do even more,” Mr. Bush will say.
The president has decided to send a Marine battalion — which are usually between 500 to 1,500 troops originally slated for Iraq to Afghanistan in November.
In January, an Army brigade — of 3,500 to 5,000 troops — will also go to Afghanistan.
The U.S. already has 31,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, up from 21,000 two years ago, according to the White House.
Mr. Bush will also tout successes in Iraq and attribute them to a surge of 30,000 troops last year. He will proceed with the recommendation of Gen. David H. Petraeus, his commanding officer in Iraq, and withdraw 8,000 soldiers from Iraq over the next four months, without replacing them, bringing U.S. troop levels in Iraq to 146,000, the Associated Press reported.
The surge of 30,000 troops in the spring and summer of 2007 increased the U.S. presence from 130,000 to 160,000. But those numbers do not represent the total number of U.S. troops, because each brigade of soldiers requires a certain number of support troops.
That is why even though all surge combat troops have left Iraq, the U.S. still has 146,000 soldiers there.
Mr. Bush held out the prospect of further reductions from Iraq after he leaves office.
“If the progress in Iraq continues to hold, General Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009,” Mr. Bush will say.
Although Mr. Bush will no longer have control of troop levels once he leaves office, he hopes his successor will follow his policy of making decisions based on recommendations from military commanders. Mr. Bush has elevated Gen. Petraeus to the head of Central Command, which oversees all Middle East operations, along with Africa and Central Asia.
And Gen. Petraeus’ replacement, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, is a protege who also believes that the U.S. should reduce its troop presence in Iraq only if conditions continue to improve.
Mr. Bush’s switch in focus to Afghanistan is in some ways a response to the one remaining Democratic criticism of the Iraq war.
After the success of the surge, the Democrats’ main complaint has been that Iraq is a distraction from Afghanistan, which many, including Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, call the real front in the war against terrorism.
Mr. Bush said his increase of troops, coupled with additional troop commitments from European allies recently, constitutes a “quiet surge” in Afghanistan.
In the last year, fighting has become heavier in Afghanistan than in Iraq. While violence is at its lowest levels in Iraq since 2004, the U.S. and its allies in NATO have suffered more casualties since May in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
The Bush administration has pushed NATO for more troops in Afghanistan, and for Western nations to move troops from nonviolent regions to the troubled south and east regions, with some success. Non-U.S. NATO troops are up from 21,000 two years ago to 30,000.
“The Taliban and al Qaeda will not be allowed to return to power. The terrorists will suffer the same fate in Afghanistan that they are now suffering in Iraq — they will be defeated,” Mr. Bush plans to say.