WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday endorsed a
proposal to spend at least US$1 billion to expand the size and accelerate the
training and equipping of Iraqi security forces.
While the plan still must get final approval from the White House and the
money would have to be approved by Congress, Rumsfeld's support underscores the
Bush administration's effort to shift more of the burden of Iraq's security to
that country's forces.
"I'm very comfortable with the
increases they've proposed and the accelerations in achievement of some of their
targets," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon, noting that the Iraqi
government and Gen. George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, both recommended
expanding Iraqi forces.
US Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, right, receives Turkey's
Minister of National Defense Vecdi Gonul during an honor cordon at the
Pentagon in Washington Monday, Oct. 30, 2006.
"Now it's simply a matter of our pressing forward and getting our portion of
the funding from the Congress and working to see that it's executed," Rumsfeld
said. He did not say how much extra US money would be required.
So far, the US government has spent roughly US$10 billion on developing the
Iraqi security forces, according to the latest report released by the Pentagon
special inspector general who audits U.S. work in Iraq. One official, speaking
on condition of anonymity, described the proposed extra money as more than $1
billion, but would not offer specifics.
Rumsfeld "approved going forward" with the proposal, which is intended to be
part of an add-on to the 2007 budget, according to Pentagon press secretary Eric
Ruff. It will next be submitted to the White House and other government agencies
for their review, Ruff said.
The defense secretary's move comes at a time when the Bush administration has
been pressing Iraqi officials to agree to benchmarks with which progress in the
war-torn country can be measured. The effort has produced strains with Iraqi
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has resisted being portrayed as beholden to
Rumsfeld did not cite a dollar figure or reveal how many extra Iraqi forces
would be developed, beyond the 325,000 target that U.S. officials say they
expect to reach before year's end.
Two defense officials said Tuesday that the expected increase was far fewer
than 100,000, and one official suggested it might be about 30,000. Those
officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to
discuss the matter publicly.
CBS News reported on Monday that Casey had recommended expanding the Iraqi
security forces by as much as 100,000.
Rumsfeld said the final decision on expanding the Iraqi security forces would
be announced in Baghdad.
Asked whether such an increase would mean that US troops would have to stay
in Iraq longer to train the extra forces, Rumsfeld said he doubted it. Nor would
it necessarily require a higher number of US trainers, he said.
US government approval is required for any plan to expand the size of the
Iraqi forces because it could not be accomplished without additional US funds
and the provision of US trainers and US-acquired equipment.
Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services
Committee, said expanding the Iraqi security forces likely means it will take
more than the 12 to 18 months Casey has estimated it will take to get the Iraqis
fully in control of their own security.
"Congress must have a clear explanation of why these additional forces are
needed, what additional American training resources will be put in place, and
how this new training plan will allow for a decreased commitment from American
forces," Skelton said.
The current plan is to develop 325,000 Iraqi security forces, including the
army, police and border control forces. The number trained and equipped thus far
is about 310,000, and the final target is expected to be reached by year's end.
However, there are actually fewer than 310,000 Iraqi security forces who are
available for duty, since about one-quarter of them are on leave or otherwise
not available at any given time, US officials say. Also, their effectiveness has
been limited by a lack of heavy weapons and armor, by a high rate of
absenteeism, and by an unwillingness of some locally recruited units to fight
outside their home areas.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that there are now 150,000 US troops in Iraq, up
from 147,000 last week.