Should President Bush order an increase of 15,000 to 20,000 troops in Iraq? That's the case made by some generals Wednesday as the president met with his incoming and outgoing defense secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Some of the extra troops might be used to secure Baghdad, while others could be sent to Anbar province, according to Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. The remainder would be used to help train Iraqi soldiers. At this point, any increase in troop levels would be temporary.
"There is some reluctance to do this on the part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Bowman says. "They're worried the military is stretched too thin."
Gen. John Abizaid, the top military commander in the Middle East, made exactly that argument in testimony before Congress last month.
Bowman says any boost in the number of troops would start with extending the stay of those now on the ground.
Soldiers currently do a 12-month stint and Marines are there for seven months. The Pentagon would also speed up the arrival of replacements by a month or more, a process that could continue into the new year.
"It is difficult though, it's very hard on the Marines, the soldiers and their families," Bowman says. "And again, there is worry about stretching the Army, Navy and Marines to their breaking point. At what point will soldiers no longer enlist or re-enlist into the services?"
There are also questions about having enough equipment. But Bowman says the chief concern is the soldiers and Marines themselves: "They have been asked to do a lot and now you're asking them to do more."
President Bush has said he will wait until early 2007 to offer his plans for a "new way forward" in Iraq.