Wednesday, November 15, 2006

General Says More Troops May Be Needed in Iraq

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 — The top American military commander in the Middle East raised the possibility today that more United States troops might be needed in Iraq, at least temporarily, to help that country’s security forces and prevent the turbulent nation from tearing itself apart.

“We have every option on the table, and we will present them to the chain of command,” Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the United States Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. The general emphasized that any increases would be temporary and for the purpose of hastening the transition to Iraqi control of internal security.

Pressed by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat and soon to be chairman, on whether the American options might include lowering troop levels, he replied, “Yes, senator, it goes all the way from increasing our U.S. combat forces, all the way down to withdrawing our U.S. combat forces.”

But a bit later, under questioning from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, General Abizaid said, “Under the current circumstances, I would not recommend troop withdrawals.” The general said several times that setting specific timetables, as some Democrats have recommended, would be detrimental.

General Abizaid and David Satterfield, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq, told the committee that this moment in history is crucial for Iraq, and by extension the United States. The new government and the Iraqi people must seize the opportunity to create a stable, peaceful country of their own, they said.

General Abizaid, who warned in August that the country could slide into full-scale civil war if sectarian violence continued, said that violence was still at an “unacceptable” level, but that it had subsided somewhat in recent weeks.

“I’m very encouraged by my recent trip,” the general said, having just returned from Iraq. But he added, “I would not say we’ve turned the corner.”

Mr. Satterfield offered a similar assessment. While testifying that “much more work remains, and the time for that work is now,” Mr. Satterfield said, “We believe a successful path forward can still be forged in Iraq.”

There was no suggestion that the number of American troops in Iraq, now about 140,000 to 150,000, would be cut sharply soon.

Read the rest at the NY Times

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