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Bush Supports Bigger US Military for Long Ideological Struggle

President Bush says he wants to increase the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps because he believes the United States is at the beginning of a long struggle between competing ideologies. And his new defense secretary said in Baghdad the increase is needed because of the many and varied missions the U.S. military is being asked to perform. But no one is saying how big an increase there should be, or how fast it should happen. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

President Bush says he has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to report back as soon as possible with details on increasing the size of U.S. ground forces. He announced his support for the idea in an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday, and expanded on it at a news conference on Wednesday.

"The reason why I am inclined to believe this is a good idea is because I understand that we are going to be in a long struggle against radicals and extremists," he said. "And we must make sure that our military has the capability to stay in the fight for a long period of time."

The president said it will take some time "for the ideology of liberty to finally triumph over the ideology of hate."

"We are in the beginning of a conflict between competing ideologies, a conflict that will determine whether or not your children can live in peace," he added.

The president has given the job of determining the size and timing of an increase to Defense Secretary Gates, who was in Baghdad - his third day on the job.

"With all of the missions that the army and the Marine Corps have had had in recent years, not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but the challenges that we potentially face in Iran and North Korea and elsewhere, not to mention other things like rescue missions related to Hurricane Katrina, that frankly the question arose whether the army is in fact large enough to carry out all the missions it has been assigned," noted Mr. Bush.

Gates said that question arose even though the army has increased its combat capability within the existing force through reform efforts. He also said there is a question of how much the U.S. government can afford to increase the size of the military, particularly with billions of dollars already being spent to modernize the current force.

Last week, the top officer in the U.S. Army, General Peter Schoomaker, said it would be "wise and prudent" to increase the size of the army, because of what he called the "strain" caused by continuous combat operations during the last five years.

But Secretary Gates noted in Baghdad that any increase in U.S. troop strength will not affect the current situation there.

"A decision to increase the size of the army today really will not show up in troops, if you will, trained troops for some period of time," he added.

The top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, has said it would take two years to recruit, train and equip additional troops. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it more difficult for the military to meet its recruiting goals in order to maintain the current force strength, but those goals have been met recently.

The 2.8 million men and women in the active and reserve U.S. military are all volunteers.