Bush Expected to Announce Increase of Troops
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
This week will mark a turning point in the Iraq war. On Wednesday, President Bush is expected to announce a troop surge, increasing the size of U.S. ground forces in Iraq by as many as 20,000 troops. Democrats on Capitol Hill are vowing to oppose the plan, and we'll hear about that in a few minutes.
But first, the plan itself. NPR's Guy Raz covers the military and joins us now in the studio.
Guy, what are we talking about here? What exactly is meant by a surge?
GUY RAZ: Well, it actually means re-jiggering the number of troops on the ground in Iraq. Now, since the 2003 invasion, there have been times when there have been as many as 170,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. For example, during the Iraqi elections. So these were temporary surges, if you will.
There have been times when there have been as few as 125,000. Right now there are 135,000. The idea is to re-jigger the numbers to get that level of troops up to about 160,000. What makes this different is that this is going to be a long-term increase in the size of ground forces in Iraq.
ELLIOTT: How will the military go about achieving that number?
RAZ: Well, the short answer is with tricky math. And there are two words to remember here: accelerate and extend. Basically, you have to think about the Army as a series of brigades. Right now in Iraq there are 16 to 17 brigades. A brigade has about 3,000 to 3,500 soldiers in it. And each brigade ideally will spend a year in Iraq and then rotate out.
Now, right now, of course, there are brigades who are scheduled to leave Iraq, to return to their home bases, whether it's Fort Riley, Kansas or Konigsberg, Germany. Those brigades will be extended. There's no question about that. And most of the brigades in Iraq right now will be extended, and the ones that are preparing to go to Iraq, say in August or September, well, they'll be accelerated and they'll leave perhaps in a month or two months from now.
ELLIOTT: Now, what will the mission be for these forces? Just yesterday, Iraq's prime minister announced that Iraqi forces were going to be cracking down in Baghdad and other parts of the country, cracking down on militias, and we had an Iraqi diplomat tell us that it's time now for the Iraqi forces to be in charge of securing the country.
RAZ: And the great irony of that diplomat telling you that is that actually has been the core mission in theory of U.S. forces in Iraq since early 2004, and the idea of being transitioned, transitioning authority and security responsibility to the Iraqis so they could take the lead, and in theory that would hasten the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Well, of course, the theory goes now - at least according to the administration - that that hasn't worked. And so they need to shift the core mission of U.S. forces at least temporarily, and when I say temporarily, I'm talking about six months to a year. That core mission is going to be security and stability and you're going to see over the next year U.S. forces taking a more active role in bringing about stability and security to the Iraqi population.
ELLIOTT: Guy, leading up to the president making his announcement of the new strategy, we'd been hearing from the commanders in Iraq, General Abizaid, who's on his way out as head of the U.S. central command, expressing reservations about sending more troops. So had General Casey, who was the Iraq ground commander. He's coming back to Washington now as army chief of staff.
Is the president not listening to them?
RAZ: He's not listening to Abizaid or Casey on this particular issue. There's no question about that. But you have to understand that there's a lot of disagreement at the senior military command level about the wisdom of a surge, if you will, or an increase. Some commanders say let's do it, let's go with it. And others are saying, no, the Army and the Marines are too stretched and we simply can't do it.
But what's interesting about this is that the president has all along said that when it comes to the idea of troop numbers, he's going to be taking his cues from the commanders on the ground, particularly General Casey. Here's what he said. Just take a listen to what he said about this very issue last July.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: General Casey will make the decisions as to how many troops we have there. He'll decide how best to achieve victory and the troop levels necessary to do so. I spent a lot of time talking to him about troop levels and I told him this. I said, You decide, General.
ELLIOTT: So who's deciding now?
RAZ: Well, clearly General Casey is not deciding when it comes to the issue of a surge. And the president appointed Lieutenant General David Petraeus to take over ground forces in Iraq. Now, Petraeus has not made it clear whether he does or does not support a surge. He has not talked about it publicly, but I suspect that he does. The president would not have appointed him to this position if Petraeus wasn't on the same page as the president.
ELLIOTT: NPR's Guy Raz. Thanks so much.
RAZ: Thank you.