We noted in March 2005, when US troop levels in Iraq were boosted to around 150,000 ahead of the elections, that they were up from 123,000 a year earlier, and were supported by some 26,000 more coalition troops. This was also an increase from May 2003, when Bush initially declared “victory” in Iraq. Then the US had 135,000 troops in Iraq, and officially planned to reduce that number by over 100,000 over the next four months. Now, the Washington Post informs us July 28, US troops in Iraq are being raised by 3,000 to 135,000 in response to growing sectarian violence: in other words, the same level they were at when Bush declared “mission accomplished” in May 2003. Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?
Pentagon to Boost Iraq Troops to 135,000
AWASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s move to increase U.S. forces in Iraq will push troops levels to roughly 135,000, dashing Bush administration hopes of dropping that figure by tens of thousands by the fall congressional campaigns.
As of Friday, there were 16 Army and Marine brigades in Iraq, two more than the level several months ago. And the total troops there had already reached 132,000, and will climb in the coming weeks, buoyed by the decision to delay the scheduled return home this month of an Alaskan Army brigade.
The move is in response to the escalating violence in Baghdad and the new troop levels could remain intact for much of next year.
“You’re going to see that spike, that is a sustained spike, for a while, and you’re going to still have force rotations that take place,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, adding that the increases could push totals above 135,000 when brigades overlap as they are moving in and out of the country in the coming months.
“What you’re seeing is a flexible and adaptable force, based on those changing dynamic conditions that are now being addressed by the application of additional Iraqi and U.S. forces,” he said.
The move comes as members of Congress are preparing to return to their home districts, readying their November re-election campaigns _ and robs them of the ability to tell an increasingly impatient public that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will substantially drop by the end of the year, as they had hoped.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been steadfast in his insistence that troop levels will be adjusted according to conditions on the ground, but officials _ including military commanders and lawmakers _ had hoped to see the troop numbers drop to about 100,000 by year’s end.
Earlier this year, there were suggestions that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, would make recommendations to Rumsfeld in the spring, that could begin showing a decrease in American troops. But the Tuesday troop rotations announcement mapping out five more Army and Marine brigades scheduled to go to Iraq starting later this year signaled that any decrease in the coming months is highly unlikely.
“The announcement that the U.S. is sending more troops into Baghdad is a grim warning of just how serious the situation in Iraq has become,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.