The chief of the U.S. Army says he is planning two more year-long rotations of 100,000 troops sent to Iraq - the first clear indication of just how long military officials are preparing to maintain a strong force in the country.
About 100,000 U.S. troops are moving to Iraq to replace the original forces that ousted Saddam Hussein. These replacement units will stay in Iraq for one year.
General Peter Schoomaker has revealed the Army is planning two further year-long rotations of similar troop strength - plans that, if approved, would keep American soldiers in Iraq in strength through early 2007.
The Army chief of staff made the disclosure during a Congressional hearing Wednesday. "I have given instructions to the Army that we should plan - this is not a prediction, but it is a planning factor - I have said I want to plan rotation three and rotation four to be sized like rotation two," he explained.
Senior defense officials have avoided discussing any specific timeline for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, saying only that American forces will remain as long as necessary with as many troops as needed to deal with security threats.
But these officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have stressed the Pentagon's ultimate goal is to increasingly shift the responsibility for security in the country to Iraqis.
Mr. Rumsfeld has predicted in the past that as more Iraqi security forces are trained, fewer American and other foreign troops will be needed.
The Pentagon says there are now more than 200,000 Iraqi security personnel.