Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he does not consider the new troop surge to Iraq the “last chance” for stability in the violence-torn country and that he is developing backup plans if the surge does not achieve its expected results.
Testifying before Congress on February 6 and 7, Gates also warned that the reinforcements could be halted if the Iraqi government does not uphold its commitments.
President Bush announced January 10 that he is ordering as many as 25,000 additional troops to Iraq. With the surge, U.S. troop levels in Iraq will exceed 160,000 in the next several months. (See related article.)
If the plan works, Gates said, U.S. troop reductions could begin by the end of 2007.
“The performance of the Iraqis is absolutely critical to the success of this operation,” Gates said of Iraqi security forces, which are taking a leading role in establishing secure sectors throughout Baghdad.
Some observers have characterized President Bush’s plan as a final chance for the U.S.-led international coalition to stabilize Iraq, which remains in political turmoil nearly four years after the coalition drove former dictator Saddam Hussein from power.
“This is not the last chance,” Gates said of the troop increase.
“We are certainly hoping that the Baghdad Security Plan will be successful,” Gates told the House Armed Services Committee on February 7. “We are resourcing it to be successful. We are sending the troops forward as General [David] Petraeus has asked and as the Joint Chiefs have recommended.”
Petraeus is the newly appointed coalition forces commander in Iraq.
“That said, I think that it would be irresponsible of me not to be looking at alternatives should these expectations and hopes not prove to be fulfilled,” Gates added. “And so without getting into any details, I will simply say … that I have asked that we begin to look at other contingencies and other alternatives.”
President Bush would make the final decision on whether to halt the deployment of the additional personnel, Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 6. “We will have a continuing evaluation going on in terms of the Iraqis' performance. But the troops are, at this point, all under orders to deploy.”
Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division already have moved into Iraq from neighboring Kuwait, and additional brigades are en route. The president announced that about 21,500 American soldiers and Marines would be part of the surge. But General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said additional support personnel could increase that number by 10 percent to 15 percent, bringing the deployment to about 25,000 troops.
Along with the U.S. surge, additional Iraqi forces are expected to deploy to Baghdad. Gates said February 2 that an initial report suggested that the first Iraqi brigade to deploy to Baghdad arrived with only 55 percent of its personnel. However, Gates told senators on February 6 that he has received a clarifying report that 60 percent of the Iraqi brigade’s troops deployed to Baghdad while another 25 percent of the Iraqi brigade’s troops were either on duty at their home base or had an approved absence to hand-carry pay to their families, a common practice with the Iraqi military. In light of this new information, Gates said, 85 percent of the Iraqi troops was accounted for, which he said is an acceptable level.
Pace told the House Armed Services Committee that he does not consider the violence in Iraq to be a civil war.
“The Iraqi army and the Iraqi police are loyal to the central government. They are taking orders from the central government,” Pace told lawmakers. “So, from my perspective, we are not in a civil war.”