Steward M. Powell / Hearst Newspapers – 2007-05-25 22:17:15
WASHINGTON (May 22, 2007) — The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday.
This “second surge” of troops in Iraq, which is being executed by extending tours for brigades already there and by deploying more units, could boost the number of combat troops to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year. When support troops are included, the total number of US troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 — the most ever — by the end of the year.
The efforts to reinforce US troops in Iraq are being carried out without the fanfare that accompanied President Bush’s initial troop surge in January.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, the US commander who led NATO troops into Bosnia in late 1995, when asked to comment on the analysis of deployment orders, said: “It doesn’t surprise me that they’re not talking about it. I think they would be very happy not to have any more attention paid to this.”
The first surge was prominently proclaimed by Bush in a nationally televised address Jan. 10, when he ordered five additional combat brigades to join 15 brigades already in Iraq.
The buildup was designed to give commanders the 20 combat brigades that Pentagon planners said were needed to provide security in Baghdad and in western Anbar province.
Since then, the Pentagon has extended combat tours for units in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months and announced the deployment of additional brigades.
Fort Lewis already has 10,000 soldiers serving in Iraq, including two Stryker Brigades of nearly 4,000 soldiers each, and smaller units. Other branches of the military based in Washington and the state’s National Guard also have small units in Iraq.
One Stryker Brigade’s deployment was supposed to end in June, but was extended to October. The other brigade began a 15-month deployment in April.
If the Pentagon overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades, the number of combat soldiers could rise from 52,500 in early January to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year.
Taken together, the steps could put elements of as many as 28 combat brigades in Iraq by Christmas, according to an analysis of deployment orders by Hearst Newspapers.
Nash said that some of the projected reinforcements could reflect an effort by the Bush administration to “get the number of troops into Iraq that we’ve needed there all along.”
“The problem is that it comes at a time when everybody else is saying that we should call it a day,” Nash said. “Most folks want us leaving — not arriving.”
The troop escalation coincides with the time frame when Army Gen. David Petraeus, the overall US commander, has promised his verdict on whether the initial troop surge is working, whether additional troops are needed or whether US troops should begin phased withdrawal.
In an unusual step, several of Petraeus’ subordinate field commanders have publicly described their needs for additional combat troops.
Army Lt. Col. Carl Ey, an Army spokesman, said Monday that there is no effort under way by the Army to carry out “a secret surge” beyond the 20 combat brigades ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
“There isn’t a second surge going on; we’ve got what we’ve got,” Ey said. “The idea that there are ever going to be more combat brigades in theater in the future than the secretary of defense has authorized is pure speculation.”
Ey attributed the increase in troops to “temporary increases that typically occur during the crossover period” as arriving combat brigades move into position to replace departing combat brigades.
“Typically during a transition period, there is an increase in the number of soldiers in theater,” Ey said. “But it’s temporary.”
Ey said that only elements of the eight additional combat brigades beyond the 20 already authorized would actually be in Iraq in December.
Combat brigades in Iraq are the independent, self-sustaining, mobile military units of 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers that are used to seize, hold and rebuild Iraqi communities and to combat insurgents, sectarian attacks and al-Qaida operatives.
The Pentagon has repeatedly extended unit tours in Iraq during the past four years to achieve temporary increases in combat power. For example, three combat brigades were extended up to three months in November 2004 to boost the number of US troops from 138,000 to 150,000 before, during and after the Jan. 30, 2005, Iraqi national elections.
Lawrence Korb, an assistant defense secretary for manpower during the Reagan administration, said the Pentagon deployment schedule enables the Bush administration to achieve quick increases in combat forces in the future by delaying units’ scheduled departures from Iraq and overlapping them with arriving replacement forces.
“The administration is giving itself the capability to increase the number of troops in Iraq,” Korb said. “It remains to be seen whether they actually choose to do that.”
The Joint Forces Command, the Pentagon entity based in Norfolk, Va., that tracks combat forces heading to and returning from Iraq, declined to discuss unit-by-unit deployments.
“Due to operational security, we cannot confirm or discuss military unit movements or schedules,” Navy Lt. Jereal Dorsey said by e-mail.
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