BAGHDAD, Iraq - US Defense
Secretary Robert Gates found American commanders wary of a proposal to rush more
UStroops to Iraq as he visited the war-ravaged country Wednesday.
Newly installed US Defense
Secretary Robert Gates (L) greets General George Casey (R) and General
John Abizaid (C) upon arriving in Baghdad December 20, 2006.
President Bush is considering that idea and others in his search for a fresh
path in a 3 1/2-plus year war that has no end in sight and has lost the support
of the American public.
On just his third day in charge of the Pentagon, Gates made the unannounced
trip with the administration under intense pressure to forge a new
strategy - and just hours after the president conceded, for the first time,
that the US is not winning the conflict.
After meeting with top US generals at Camp Victory, Gates acknowledged
concerns that rushing thousands more American troops to the battlefront could
allow the Iraqis to slow their effort to take control of the country.
He said no decisions have been made.
"It's clearly a consideration," Gates said of how an infusion of American
troops might affect Iraqi leaders. "I think that the commanders out here have
expressed a concern about that."
Gen. George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq and one of several generals
who met with Gates, said he supports boosting troop levels only when there is a
specific purpose for their deployment. Other military leaders have expressed
uncertainty over the purpose and results of injecting more troops.
"I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea, but what I want to see happen is
whether, if we do bring more American troops here, they help us progress to our
strategic objectives," Casey told reporters during a news conference with Gates
and other military leaders.
Gen. John Abizaid, top US commander in the Middle East, sounded a more
favorable tone. The military, he said, is "looking at every possible thing that
might influence the situation to make Baghdad in particular more secure."
Bush said Wednesday he is considering sending more troops to Iraq but has not
made up his mind. No timetables or troop totals have been mentioned publicly,
but by some accounts roughly 20,000 troops would be added to the 140,000 already
The president is expected to announce his decisions next month - when a
new Congress convenes, controlled by Democrats ready to make the war their top
Echoing some of his commanders' questions about a troop surge, Bush said, "In
order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with
Bush is considering choices ranging from a short-term increase of thousands
of troops to bring the escalating violence in Baghdad and Anbar province under
control, to removing combat US forces and accelerating the training and
equipping of Iraqi security forces. More than one-third of the US troops in Iraq
are combat forces.
Gates, on his third day on the job, said he would not form a judgment until
he has spoken to Iraqi leaders, which he is scheduled to do during his visit.
Also on the trip was Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
plus officials from the State Department, the National Security Council and the
The timing of Gates' trip, and his entourage, underscored how important the
administration believes it is to set a new direction in the Iraq war.
Gates was noncommittal when asked whether the sectarian violence in Baghdad
can be quashed without taking action against the Mahdi Army of anti-American
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr is a main supporter of Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Gates said he is looking for ways to help the Iraqi government bring down the
violence and "that will be a principle theme of discussions."
Bush and Gates also said they are considering increasing the overall size of
the US military following recent complaints by top generals that the forces have
been stretched too thin by the worldwide campaign against terrorists. They used
no figures, but Bush said he was asking Gates to produce a plan for the
Gates said he was just starting to study that idea. He expressed concern that
the Army and Marine Corps are not large enough to face challenges of the 21st
century that might include threats in Iran and North Korea, as well as natural
The debate over increasing troops has continued for months, as the military
has been struggling to quell the escalating violence - particularly
sectarian bloodshed - in Iraq. The war has claimed more than 2,950 US
casualties and cost roughly US$350 billion.
Some top US commanders have been wary of even a short-term troop increase,
saying it might bring only a temporary respite to the violence while confronting
the US with shortages of fresh troops in the future.
Military leaders are also considering an increase in the number of American
advisers for Iraqi security forces.