Many American troops in Iraq -- and their families in the United States -- have complained of what they call unacceptably long tours of duty. Some have been granted short home leaves, but nothing more. Now, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld plans to send some troops home and replace them with fresh, but fewer, forces.
Washington, 7 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing yesterday that U.S. National Guard and Reserve forces will be deployed in Iraq in early 2004 to relieve Army forces that have been the core of the U.S. occupation.
There are now about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. By spring, their number will have been reduced to a little more than 100,000, according to the Pentagon. And this comes as the Iraqi resistance appears to be escalating its attacks on U.S. forces and other foreign entities in the country, including the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
But Rumsfeld stressed that overall, the number of troops in Iraq will be greater than they are today. "As the number of Iraqi forces continues to increase, and as other countries consider deployments, as they are, the total number of coalition forces, including Iraqi security forces, clearly will grow as it has been growing every month for the past three or four months," he said.
Rumsfeld also said the extent of the U.S. presence might not be reduced if conditions there warrant more forces. In fact, many military analysts and some members of Congress say this "security situation" already requires more U.S. troops. One is Senator John McCain, a member of President George W. Bush's Republican Party and, in many respects, a staunch supporter of his decision to go to war.
But McCain also has not hesitated to speak out openly on matters where he and the Bush administration differ. On 5 November he gave a speech on U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spoke unequivocally about the need for more American troops in Iraq. "I hope that Secretary Rumsfeld would recognize the realities on the ground. And the realities on the ground are that things are not getting better," McCain said. "And that would require, hopefully, maybe redeployment from the north and the south, perhaps other kinds of redeployment. But however you do it, I think we need more people there."
Rumsfeld was asked about this remark during yesterday's briefing. He noted that McCain has an illustrious military record and is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. Therefore, Rumsfeld said, he and his aides have discussed the senator's position on the needs of U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, which is in charge of operations in Iraq.
According to Rumsfeld, his conclusion remains the same as it has for some time. "I have not been told of a single military commander in CENTCOM, in Iraq, who is recommending additional U.S. military forces -- not one."
Analyst Ted Galen Carpenter, who was not a supporter of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, said he hopes the United States can move quickly to end its involvement there. Carpenter is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a private policy-research center in Washington.
But Carpenter told RFE/RL that he wonders how the U.S. military can expedite the process of both training Iraqis adequately and ensuring that no loyalists of deposed President Saddam Hussein infiltrate the new security apparatus:
"I certainly hope it works, but I am worried about the extent of fifth columnists in such a force. That's likely to be a very big problem," Carpenter said. "But if the U.S. has any hope of getting out of Iraq any time soon, this probably is the only strategy for achieving that goal. Otherwise we're going to be stuck there for the next five or 10 years."
Carpenter said he also believes politics played a major part in the administration's decision. Or, he is quick to add, perhaps Bush and Rumsfeld are actually convinced that its successes in Iraq -- opening schools, restoring electricity and running water, encouraging a free press -- mean conditions really are improving.
"I think in some ways they believe their own propaganda, that things really are getting better in Iraq, even though by every measurement the security environment is growing more dangerous, not less," Carpenter said.
Political analyst Larry Sabato said that, for him, it is clear that the decision is based primarily on politics. Sabato, who teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said this becomes evident because the troop numbers will be reduced in the opening months of a year in which Bush will be seeking re-election. "Anyone who believes that politics didn't come into that decision -- since it takes effect in the middle of a presidential election year -- is very na�ve," Sabato said.
But Sabato added that to see a political motive is not necessarily to be cynical, and for a politician to have a political motive is not necessarily to be dishonest. "When politicians do things for political reasons, it generally means that the public is strongly opposed to current policy," Sabato said. "And increasingly, the public in America has doubts about our mission in Iraq." The troop reduction, he said, "is an attempt to be responsive to those public doubts. And that's probably a good thing."