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Bigger U.S. Force May Stabilize Iraq
Associated Press | August 14, 2006MOSUL, Iraq - Iraq could be stabilized faster if the United States increased the size of its force, but the costs would outweigh the benefits, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday.
Gen. Peter Pace said in an interview at the conclusion of a two-day visit - his first since surging sectarian violence triggered talk of all-out civil war - that his meetings with U.S. commanders and their troops left him convinced that the Pentagon is correct to focus its effort mainly on training Iraqi security forces.
He said the current American force of about 133,000 troops is the right size for that training mission and for the more deadly work of containing the insurgency and helping reduce sect-on-sect killings.
"More U.S. and coalition forces could get the job done quicker, but that would mean dependency much longer for the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi government," he said, speaking in a recreation room for U.S. troops as a searing summer sun set on a day that took him from Baghdad to Fallujah to Mosul.
During a question-and-answer session with troops in Baghdad on Saturday, Pace said U.S. officials had hoped as recently as July that they could reduce the U.S. force by two brigades, or about 7,000 troops, this fall. But with the surge in sectarian killings, the force was instead increased by two brigades.
Pace returned to Washington early Monday.
Pace said his encounters with U.S. troops at each stop in Iraq reinforced his belief that they are proud of what they are doing and satisfied with what they have accomplished. But he also said he had detected among them "some frustration at the Iraqis for not yet grasping the opportunity that's in front of them."
He was alluding to the failure of rival Shiite and Sunni sects to reconcile their differences, stop the sectarian violence that has gripped Baghdad in recent months and establish an effective government.
The troops feel, "We're doing our part. When is the (Iraqi) governance part going to kick in? And that's a fair question."
Pace preached patience.
"It's too early to pass judgment on a brand new government," he said, referring to Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki.
In Fallujah, once a key stronghold of the insurgency and still troubled by almost daily murders of policemen, a few Marines posed questions to Pace that suggested a creeping doubt about what their sacrifices have gained.
How much more time, one Marine asked, should the Iraqi government be given to achieve the political unity necessary to stabilize the country?
"I guess they have as long as it takes - which is not forever," Pace replied.
Pace argued that setting a deadline for the United States to withdraw its support would risk pushing the Iraqis into political decisions that are unviable. On the other hand, he said, "You do not want to leave it open ended."
Another Marine wanted to know if U.S. troops would stay in Iraq in the event of an all-out civil war. Pace repeated what he told a Senate committee last week: a civil war is possible, but not expected. He did not say what the United States would do if it actually happened.
Another asked what the United States would do if the Iraqi government did not support extending the U.N. resolution that authorizes the presence of American and other foreign troops in Iraq. Pace said the Iraqis already have said they favor extending the U.S. mandate, which expires in December.
One Marine wound up his question about the pace of U.S. troop deployments to Iraq by asking, "Is the war coming to an end?"
Pace didn't answer directly. He said Pentagon officials and military leaders are trying to keep enough troops in Iraq to achieve the mission of training Iraqi troops to take over the security mission, while avoiding having so many that it creates an Iraqi dependency.
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