Monday, July 14, 2003

U.S. defense officials yesterday brushed off India’s decision to not send 15,000 or more troops to Iraq to help the U.S.-led coalition’s efforts to restructure the shattered country.

To date, Britain and Poland have joined with countries around the world to offer roughly 13,000 troops to help the United States secure and rebuild the nation.

“We have more than a dozen countries on the ground today, we have more than a dozen countries who will contribute in the near future, and we have yet another dozen with whom we are talking about possible contributions,” one defense official said.

“We are optimistic that we will have significant international contributions,” he said.

But the State Department was clearly disappointed with New Delhi’s decision.

“We would have hoped that India would have made a different choice — that they would be there,” spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Defense officials had spoken of the possibility of a third international division to aid the coalition effort, which currently is heavily tilted toward the United States and coming under lethal attacks by Iraqi paramilitary forces.

India, loath to be seen as part of an occupation force in Iraq, announced yesterday it would not deploy troops to Iraq without an explicit United Nations mandate.

“Our longer-term national interest, our concern for the people of Iraq, our long-standing ties with the Gulf region, as well as our growing dialogue and strengthened ties with the U.S., have been key elements in this consideration,” Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha told reporters after a two-hour meeting of the Cabinet’s security committee.

India has the fourth-largest military in the world and has taken part in U.N.-directed peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Cambodia and Angola.

The United States, which has 147,000 troops in Iraq, had asked India for a division — 15,000 to 20,000 soldiers — to command a sector of northern Iraq around the city of Mosul.

Troops under British command have been designated for the southern section of Iraq. Those under Polish command would be in control of the south-central part of the country, while the United States would lead the effort in central and northern Iraq.

Countries joining the U.S., British and Polish troop commitments include Australia (up to 700); Azerbaijan (150); Bulgaria (500); the Czech Republic (360); Denmark (380); the Dominican Republic (300); Hungary (300); Italy (up to 3,000); Kazakstan (25); Lithuania (43); the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (about 30); the Netherlands (1,100); Romania (600); Slovakia (85); South Korea (673); and Spain (1,300).

Troops from Ukraine and possibly from the Philippines, Thailand, Mongolia and Fiji also are likely to contribute to peacekeeping in Iraq.

Bangladesh and Pakistan, both Muslim nations, have also been asked to take part but have not announced a decision. There is considerable domestic opposition to the proposals.

U.S. troops continue to come under attack in Iraq, and close to 80 have died and more than 380 have been injured since President Bush declared major combat over May 1.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday that as more coalition forces step in and Iraqi forces develop, U.S. troops could begin to either redeploy or pull out.

“Some of them have been there now close to a year, and obviously we’re going to want to bring some of them home,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

• Marisa Schweber-Koren contributed to this report.

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