Thursday, December 02, 2004

U.S. to Increase Its Force in Iraq by Nearly 12,000

The New York Times
December 2, 2004

U.S. to Increase Its Force in Iraq by Nearly 12,000

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 - The American military presence in Iraq will grow by nearly 12,000 troops by next month, to 150,000, the highest level since the invasion last year, to provide security for the Iraqi elections in January and to quell insurgent attacks around the country, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

The Pentagon is doing this mainly by ordering about 10,400 soldiers and marines in Iraq to extend their tours - in some cases for the second time - for up to two months, even as their replacement units begin to arrive. The Pentagon is also sending 1,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division in the next two weeks for a four-month tour.

By extending the tours of some 8,000 soldiers from two brigades, the Army is risking problems with morale and retention by breaking its pledge to keep troops on the ground in Iraq for no more than 12 months, some commanders and military experts said.

Commanders had signaled for weeks that there was a likelihood that additional troops would be needed to provide security for elections scheduled for Jan. 30, and the Pentagon took a first step in October by ordering 6,500 troops to extend their tours. But the force levels announced Wednesday are larger than many officers had expected and reflect the insurgents' deadly resiliency and the poor performance by many newly trained Iraqi security forces in the face of rebel assaults, military officers said.

Senior officers in Iraq and Washington said that after the Falluja offensive, they did not want to lose the momentum in pressing insurgents in other restive parts of Iraq, like Mosul and Babil Province. At the same time, commanders say they need to keep a sizable force in Falluja to stabilize the city as reconstruction efforts get under way there.

But those requirements demand more troops, especially combat-hardened forces whose experience is seen as essential in attacking the insurgents and providing support to Iraqi security forces. Putting even a squad of Americans inside police stations will stiffen the resolve of local forces and prevent routs like that in Mosul, where newly minted Iraqi police forces fled last month when attacked by small numbers of rebels, American officers said Wednesday.

"It's mainly to provide security for the elections, but it's also to keep up the pressure on the insurgency after the Falluja operation," Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, a military spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Under the military's plan, about 3,500 members of the Second Brigade of the First Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Tex., were ordered to stay an additional 45 days, until early March, for a total of about 14 months. The unit had originally been scheduled to leave in mid-November, but that departure was delayed until Jan. 12, General Rodriguez said. The First Cavalry Division is responsible for security in Baghdad, but it also provided soldiers for the cordon around Falluja.

About 4,400 troops from the Second Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, a Hawaii-based unit now operating as part of the First Infantry Division north of Baghdad, had its departure date in early January delayed 60 days, bringing its total deployment to about 14 months, General Rodriguez said. The tours of 160 soldiers from the 66th Transportation Company, based in Germany, were also extended by two months, he said.

In addition, the departure date of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, with 2,300 marines from Okinawa, Hawaii and California, will be extended to mid-March, he said.

The two 82nd Airborne battalions will be sent to conduct security missions in Baghdad's International Zone, where top American and Iraqi government officials work, General Rodriguez said. This will free up more experienced troops from the First Cavalry Division to carry out missions elsewhere in Iraq, he said.

In advance of the elections in Afghanistan in October, the military sent about 600 troops from the 82nd Airborne to provide security there.

Military officials said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, had decided to extend the tours of more experienced troops, and to take advantage of their knowledge of the insurgents and region, rather than accelerate the arrival of fresh troops from units like the Third Infantry Division, which will be arriving in January.

In particular, a senior military officer in Iraq said, American and Iraqi forces have forced insurgent and terrorist leaders to flee their former safe haven in Falluja, and additional troops would ensure that they remained on the run and could not settle in another Iraqi city.

At the Pentagon, civilian officials and military officers said they had been concerned that the order to increase troops would be heard by the American and Iraqi public and by insurgents as an acknowledgement that the mission was in trouble.

"But what we're really saying today is that we are committed to the mission, and that we are going to do everything we can to achieve security before the elections," a senior officer said.

American commanders said they learned an important lesson when insurgents responded to the offensive against Falluja by mounting their own counteroffensive, attacking police stations and a range of Iraqi security forces in other cities.

In Mosul, for example, a number of Iraqi policemen simply surrendered their neighborhood stations and headquarters when they came under insurgent attack, even though the guerrillas were vastly outnumbered.

But one Army commander in Iraq said that in those Mosul police stations where American troops were operating, even in small numbers, the new Iraqi security forces had shown resolve and held their ground.

The additional American troops will allow commanders to salt more Iraqi police stations with small, squad-size units of American forces to train the police, advise emerging Iraqi commanders and help steel the wills of Iraqi forces to stand up to the insurgents, this officer said.

More troops will also allow commanders to ease, even if slightly, the grueling days and long nights of missions now assigned throughout the American military in Iraq.

But military personnel specialists warned that the temporary force increases, which are scheduled to last from January to mid-March, might last longer than officials expect.

"The department is managing the force as frugally and carefully as possible, but we may not fall much below the 150,000 level for more than a year," said Richard I. Stark, a retired colonel who is a troop specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here.

The Army has previously extended deployments for soldiers in Iraq twice, causing complaints from some soldiers and some families.