April 06, 2004

Troop Levels Watch

Q Mr. Secretary, I know you're in regular contact with General Abizaid about the force level. Could you tell us if there's been any change in the last 24 hours? Are we still looking at adhering to the plan to bring forces down to 113 (thousand), 115,000 range?

SEC. RUMSFELD: The circumstance we were in when the latest flare-ups occurred was that we had been in the process of bringing in additional forces and beginning to move forces out. And it was planned to be over about a four- or five-month period, where some 115,000 would go out and 115,000 would go in, but they'd overlap for some extended period so that you would end up transferring the knowledge and the situational awareness that's so important and do what they call a left seat, right seat, and then right seat, left seat pass off.

At the present time we have about not 115,000, but something like 135,000 troops in the country. We're at an unusually high level, and the commanders are using the excess of forces that happen to be in there because of the deployment process. They will decide what they need and they will get what they need. At the present time they've announced no change in their plans. But they could make such a request at any time, and needless to say we would -- we've asked them periodically if they feel they have the capabilities they need, and that's something that they review on a fairly continuous basis. [emphasis added]

Donald Rumsfeld, speaking at a press conference today.

I have to say, seeing this clip over here in London, it wasn't the old cocksure Don Rumsfeld.

Instead, he looked pretty ashen faced. And there were some subtle changes in emphasis. In the past, Rumsfeld hasn't stressed that ground commanders could "make such a request [for a greater troop deployment] at any time." Usually, he would instead stress that they hadn't made such a request and would leave it at that.

And all the talk about 135,000 being an "unusually high level" of troops, or the "left seat, right seat" "pass off(s)"--all that can't disguise a simple reality.

It appears we lost approximately 20 U.S. soldiers over the past 24 odd hours.

That's just not acceptable.

We, as people like McCain have been saying for a while now, need more troops in Iraq--to fully prosecute a robust counter-insurgency campaign that won't allow such "flare ups" to occur with any regularity going forward, to signal real resolve to get the job done, to bolster moderate Shi'a and Sunni who are reticent to take arms or otherwise find common cause with the insurgents--but need to trust the U.S. is not going to hand over sovereignty, 'Iraqify,' and cut and run.

Words matter. But actions speak louder.

So what's the President's thinking on the matter?

From the White House press brief today:

Q What's the possibility of sending more troops to Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, as we've always said, those are decisions that the President leaves to military leaders to make. And the President always wants to make sure that our military has all the resources they need to do their job. But in terms of decisions about troop levels, those are decisions he leaves to the military leaders who are in the best position to make those decisions.

Q Have they made a request of that nature?

MR. McCLELLAN: You need to direct those questions to the military. I've seen a lot of different reports on that today.

Q Has the President expressed any concern to defend Secretary Rumsfeld or to any of the military commanders that perhaps the drawdown was premature?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking about troop level support; those are questions to direct to the military --

Q I'm asking about the President's view of this.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President -- and I'm telling you the President's view. Those are decisions he believes should be left to our military leaders who are in the field and in the best position to make those decisions. And our -- the President's role is to make sure that our troops have all the resources to do their job.

"A lot of different reports"? That's interesting--and appears to intimate a significant additional troop deployment is becoming a real possibility.

Put differently, I think Bush is beginning to give serious thought to approving new deployments.

Admirable, particularly in an election year (Ted Kennedy will scream Vietnam even louder).

But the right thing to do.

Developing.

Posted by Gregory at April 6, 2004 10:58 PM
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