It may not be possible to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq this year, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before a Senate committee. In addition, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same committee it will be months before any Iraqi army units are ready to operate completely on their own.
The two military leaders came in for sharp questioning by Democrats on the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations panel, who asked about recent reports that Iraqi troops are taking an increasingly large role in ground-combat operations.
With mid-term elections looming and opinion polls showing low public support for the war in Iraq, Rumsfeld and Pace were forced to defend the current efforts to train Iraqi troops to operate completely — allowing some of the current 133,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Iraq to return home.
In light of President Bush's announcement that he will send National Guard troops to bolster the Mexican bolder, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) asked why the Bush administration is adding more responsibility to an already stretched unit of the country's defense. Rumsfeld responded that the 6,000 National Guard troops the president mentioned make up only about 2 percent of Guard and Reserve troops.