- WASHINGTON -- The US commander
in charge of all forces in Iraq said on Thursday American troops might
not be brought home once international peacekeepers are deployed to the
war-torn country, a reversal that means 150,000 US soldiers may stay in
- General John Abizaid, the new head of US central command,
said foreign troops and indigenous Iraqi forces would gradually take over
internal security duties from American soldiers, but added US troops would
then be redeployed for a "more aggressive posture on external duties",
such as securing borders.
- "It depends on the security situation," Gen
Abizaid said of the role of foreign peacekeepers. "It doesn't necessarily
mean that additional foreign troops would cause a corresponding drawdown
of American forces."
- The Cencom chief's comments are a clear break from previous
Pentagon statements on the status of American deployments. General John
Keane, the acting chief of staff of the US army, told a congressional hearing
last month that a Polish-led division in southern Iraq would replace 9,000
US marines this fall, and that once another foreign division arrived -
the US has contacted India, Pakistan and Turkey about a division-sized
force - four brigades, or approximately 20,000 troops, from the US army
would be replaced.
- "I believe that that's exactly the purpose of getting
foreign troops in," said Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary,
when asked at the same congressional hearing if American forces would be
reduced when foreign troops arrived. "We are trying to get other people
to fill in for us. We're trying to get Iraqis to fill in for us."
- Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, has tried to remain
circumspect about the length and number of US troops deployed in Iraq,
saying the Pentagon must constantly re-evaluate the security situation
before deciding on the number of US troops to return to home bases and
when they will leave.
- He repeated that stance on Thursday, saying: "Trying
to look ahead and anticipate and predict all of that is very difficult."
- But he also acknowledged Gen Abizaid would have the most
important say in US troop presence. "The level of US forces will be
totally a function of the general's recommendations to the president and
- The level of US troop strength in Iraq has become highly
politicised in recent weeks, with some conservative lawmakers, such as
the influential Republican Senator John McCain, calling for additional
deployments. At the same time, several Democratic senators - and a handful
of Republicans - have taken the Pentagon to task over the rising costs
of the war, which is directly linked to force size.
- Before the war, the Pentagon repeatedly tried to play
down expectations that US forces would be forced to stay in Iraq in great
numbers for a long period of time.
- When General Eric Shinseki, then the Army's chief of
staff, told a congressional hearing before the war that it would take "several
hundred thousand" troops to stabilise Iraq, Mr Wolfowitz publicly
contradicted him, calling the estimate "wildly off the mark".
- © Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2003.