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US Military Plans To Boost Iraqi Forces With More Advisers

US Marines at the Iraq Syria border. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (AFP) Nov 16, 2006
US military leaders are drawing up plans to embed more military trainers with Iraqi forces, Pentagon officials said Thursday, in what is shaping up as a last-ditch push to get Iraqis to halt a slide toward civil war. General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, outlined the plan to substantially expand the embedded military teams Wednesday, calling it a major change in approach. Others said it was the current strategy intensified.

General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has asked planners to look at increasing the size of the so-called military transition teams from 11 to 25 advisers, an army official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A key unanswered question is whether adding to the 4,000 military advisers now assigned to Iraqi units will mean an increase in the overall size of the 144,000-strong US force.

Abizaid said he has deployed about 2,000 additional marines to Iraq's Al-Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency that the general acknowledged was not under control.

"If more troops need to come in, they need to come in to make the Iraqi army stronger," Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Abizaid's staff "are now in the planning process of looking at this to determine what is needed to fulfill that requirement," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

"There are a couple of different ways. You could re-mission some folks, and you could also ask for some additional folks for those types of duties," he said.

Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee he thought the trainers could be taken from the troops already in the country but said the plan might require a temporary increase in troop strength.

Quickly expanding the training teams might require extending the tours of some troops in Iraq, army officials said.

The shift is a far cry from the dramatic change of direction sought by Democrats and Republicans alike in the wake of the November 7 legislative elections swayed by voter anger over the course in Iraq.

"It struck me a little bit like what, frankly, Vice President (Dick) Cheney was saying, which is full speed ahead on the present course," said Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A new direction may yet emerge from a comprehensive, government-wide strategy review being led by the White House or former CIA director Robert Gates, who is expected to be confirmed as the new defense secretary next month.

But Abizaid made clear that immediate action is needed to halt a spiral of sectarian violence that he said could tip into uncontrolled chaos if not suppressed within the next four to six months.

US intelligence chiefs, if anything, painted an even darker picture of the deteriorating security situation, highlighting the formidable obstacles facing Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's national unity government.

The CIA station in Baghdad describes sectarian violence "descending into smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory," said General Michael Hayden, the CIA director.

Coalition forces are now "the primary counter to a breakdown in central authority," said Lieutenant General Michael Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

He said the main effort would remain in Baghdad and that the Iraqi army had to take the lead in targeting militia groups that now pose the most immediate threat.

"We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect," Abizaid said. "But when you look at the overall American force pool that's available out there, the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now, with the size of the army and the Marine Corps."

The plan would put US military advisers throughout the Iraqi army down to the company level to stiffen the spine of a force that has often proved unreliable and in places infiltrated by militias.

They are needed "to speed the amount of training that is done, to speed the amount of heavy weapons that gets there, and to speed the ability of Iraqi troops to deploy," the general said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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On November 18-19, George W. Bush will attend the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam, the country where his predecessors were defeated in a war more than 30 years ago. The U.S. president will make the trip soon after his party's failure to maintain control of Congress because of the country's unsuccessful strategy in Iraq.







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