Accessibility links

Breaking News

Sharp Disagreements Voiced on Bush's Iraq Troop Increase Plan

President Bush's decision to add more than 20,000 troops to the U.S. force in Iraq was controversial before it was even official. The big questions now are whether the move will improve the situation or make it worse and what impact it will have on the U.S. military's ability to do its job worldwide. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

President Bush acknowledged that his strategy in Iraq has not worked. And he said he has decided that one way to change that is by sending more U.S. troops.

"I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq," he said. "The vast majority of them -- five brigades -- will be deployed to Baghdad."

The president said he will also send 4,000 more U.S. troops to violent al-Anbar Province.

He also made clear that the troop increase is only part of his new strategy, and that Iraq's government is also committing more forces and promising to counter the influence of sectarian militias.

And the president said he will address regional security concerns, including Iranian and Syrian support for insurgents in Iraq, by sending a second U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to the region.

For some, like analyst Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, the speech was exactly what they wanted to hear.

"We need to increase the number of troops we have on the ground in Iraq, in Baghdad and in Anbar Province in particular if we're going to turn this thing around. I'm not sure that 20,000 will be enough," said Pletka.

Pletka says a broader effort is also needed to provide jobs and development in Iraq, as well as a diplomatic push with Iraq's neighbors -- which is also in the president's plan. But she says more troops and the security they can bring are the key.

She said, "More troops will achieve one thing, which is that they will deliver security to the Iraqi people, something that the United States has not made Job-One [its top priority] in the years that we've been there."

"If we are able to deliver that security, that is the moment when the groups that are now unwilling to reconcile politically will come to the table," she added.

But sending more troops to Iraq runs counter to U.S. public opinion. The latest poll, published in the USA Today newspaper indicates that just 12 percent of Americans support the move. And many Democratic Party members of Congress say they plan to try to block the deployment.

Analyst Erik Leaver at Washington's Institute for Policy Studies says troop increases were tried twice last year, and didn't work.

"The proposal to add troops in Iraq and escalating the conflict doesn't make much sense," he said.

Leaver says the United States should set a timetable for withdrawing its troops from Iraq. He says that, rather than more troops, would put pressure on Iraqi leaders to settle their differences and rein in their militias.

He said, "Withdrawing troops doesn't mean abandoning Iraq. Any discussion around withdrawal has to be coupled with a diplomatic initiative, has to be coupled with a commitment toward jobs programs, a commitment towards reconstruction."

"All those things coupled together can help give Iraqis the chance to avert a larger civil war. And I think that that's really the best we can do at this point," he continued.

Military officers are also divided on the issue. The commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, told Congress in November about a conversation he had had a few days earlier with some of his senior officers in Iraq.

"I said, 'In your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?' And they all said, 'No.' And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more," he said.

But since then, many military and civilian experts have concluded that that approach did not work, especially in Baghdad, because the Iraqi troops either were not deployed as promised, or they did not perform well.

Wednesday night, President Bush acknowledged there had not been enough troops to secure the city, and he said that won't happen again.

He said, "This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared."

The president said military commanders have endorsed his new plan. He said violence in Iraq will not end immediately, and there will be more casualties. But he said the new approach will work in the long term.

Just how long he has is a matter of some debate. The increase in U.S. troops in Iraq will further strain the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, which are already close to operating at their maximum planned deployment rates. Still, officials say the military can support this increase, and do it quickly, as long as it does not have to sustain the higher numbers for very long.

The top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, spoke about the issue in November.

"There's a rotation base that that force is part of," he said. "And if you determine to surge more today, you are using it today and not having it available for tomorrow. It's pure math when you get to that."

No one is saying exactly how long the Iraq troop surge will last. But General Pace's math, along with domestic political pressures, give President Bush's new strategy, including the troop increase, a limited amount of time to turn the complex and difficult situation in Iraq around.