U.S. Commanders Say More Troops Are Needed

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Six weeks into the Iraq security push known as "the surge," the Pentagon has said it is sending additional troops. No assurances have been made on how long this latest military operation will last.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm joined from the Pentagon by NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz. And Guy, what's the reaction there at the Pentagon to this new proposal by the House Democrats to get the troops out of Iraq in a year and a half?

GUY RAZ: You know, Madeleine, the Pentagon has always said, whenever these proposals have had sort of floated around, that they do not regard them as helpful. But it's really still too early to get an official response. I think we will probably hear from the defense secretary on this in the coming days for sure.

BRAND: Well, meanwhile the White House is going ahead with the so-called surge, sending about 21,000 more troops to Iraq. The Pentagon, though, has said it's sending an additional 7,000 new troops. They're moving into Baghdad and the al-Anbar province. And these are not part of the 21,000 more troops, the surge force?

RAZ: Right. Well, let's parse some of these numbers, first of all, Madeleine. The president's surge plan was actually to increase the overall number of troops in Iraq by about 21,500. And that's on target. So by around the end of May, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq is going to reflect that number. The 7,000 they're talking about, it's a little more complicated.

There would - you know, you might call part of the institutional Army. They're logistics people and desk clerks, some military police, convoy drivers, basically support teams. So by and large this number, 7,000, which I should say is an estimate, will be on top of the 21,500, you know, trigger pullers, if you will, basically the ground combat troops.

BRAND: So the total number, about what, 28,000? Give or take?

RAZ: Yeah. Yeah. And by the end of May, I suspect there will be about 160,000 total U.S. troops in Iraq, with these additional numbers.

BRAND: And how long can these troops expect to be deployed?

RAZ: Well, you know, there aren't really any assurances at all about how long it's going to last. I mean, initially the idea was that it was going to last a short period of time, and Secretary Gates even said that in his testimony to Congress. But essentially, you know, the surge plan was based on a proposal that was put out by a retired general, Jack Keene. And his proposal for the surge essentially called for it to last as least 12 to 18 months.

So I'm not surprised, you know, that we're hearing from Pentagon officials right now that they do think this is going to last quite some time.

BRAND: And what's the Pentagon saying about the success of military maneuvers now in Iraq in and around Baghdad? And we've heard some terrible news stories recently about pilgrims - hundreds of pilgrims being wounded and killed.

RAZ: Right. And you know, top officials are really being careful not to trumpet the surge plan too much so far. It's only been six weeks, they'll say. And you know, as you mentioned, there haven't been any radical changes on the ground. There has been a slight reduction in sectarian violence. But there's also been an increase in the number of roadside bombs in Iraq. And then of course this week alone, aside from more than 170 Iraqis who have been killed, something like 15 U.S. soldiers have actually been killed in Iraq.

BRAND: NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz. Thank you very much.

RAZ: Thank you, Madeleine.

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