ASHINGTON - The extra troops that Iraq promised to send into Baghdad in a new
US-Iraqi military buildup are arriving on schedule but in inadequate numbers,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.
Gates was asked at a news
conference about Senate testimony on Thursday by the outgoing US commander in
Baghdad, Gen. George Casey, who said the arriving Iraqi units have only 55 to 65
percent of their intended troops.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, accompanied by Joint
Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, gestures during a news conference at the
Pentagon Friday, Feb. 2, 2007. [AP]
"Fifty-five percent probably isn't good enough," Gates said, but he left open
the possibility that by the time the Baghdad crackdown begins in earnest the
Iraqi combat units will be at full strength.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who sat beside Gates
in fielding questions at the Pentagon, estimated that the arriving Iraqi units
are at about 60 percent of their assigned strength.
"It needs to be stronger than that," Pace said.
Administration officials have said they expect Iraq to meet the pledges it
made, as the troop buildup proceeds, but they have not said explicitly what
would happen if the Iraqis fall substantially short on troop contributions.
"Partly it will depend on how quickly they get back up to strength," Gates
The defense secretary has publicly held out the possibility of slowing or
stopping the flow of additional US troops if the Iraqis fall short, as they have
in the past; the Pentagon has announced plans to send five additional Army
brigades, totaling 17,500 troops, to Baghdad by May. In addition, about 4,000
Marines are to be sent to western Anbar province.
At his news conference, Gates also said that the
decision announced in January to send a second US aircraft carrier to the
Persian Gulf region does not mean the United States is planning for a war with
Iran. He said the purpose was to underscore to US allies as well as potential
adversaries that the Gulf is a vital interest to the United States.