US to cut troop strength in Iraq

In the face of intense resistance, the Pentagon plans to reduce US troop strength in Iraq to about 100,000 by May as new units are rotated in.

    Most US troops in Iraq will be replaced by fresh units

    Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace on Wednesday told the House of Representatives Armed Services committee the reduction from four to three divisions would be accommodated by an increase in the size of Iraqi security forces from about 115,000 to some 171,000.

     

    US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meanwhile signed orders on Wednesday to set in motion the force rotation in Iraq next year that will send back US Marines along with active duty army and national guard and reserve units.

     

    Deployment

     

    The rotation would involve the replacement of the bulk of the 132,000 US troops now in Iraq and will include some 35,000 to 45,000 national guard and reservists, said a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

      

    Units ordered to move were being notified overnight, the official said. "There will be some active Marines, some reserve Marines," he added.

     

    "I don't see the security situation in Iraq changing fast enough"

    Heather Wilson,
    Representative (R), New Mexico

    Although most of the deployment plan has long been in place, the Pentagon had held off a final decision in hopes that a third multinational division could be formed to take up some of the slack.

      

    But the multinational division has so far failed to materialise, forcing the Pentagon to implement a backup plan to make up the difference with additional US forces.

     

    Pace told the committee, "So as we look at projections for security requirements and

    total capabilities of non-Iraqi coalition, Iraqi coalition and US, we think that the spike in need for ground troops will in fact continue to go down, that it is not a new plateau."  

     

    Some lawmakers, however, were sceptical of Pace's projections. "I don't see the security situation in Iraq changing fast enough or the Iraqis being trained fast enough or the likelihood of a multinational division being available in March of 2004," said Representative Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico.

      

    "What's your back-up plan?" Wilson questioned.

    SOURCE: AFP


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