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US Will Have 140,000 Troops in Iraq at End of 'Surge'

The Defense Department is projecting that when the temporary U.S. troop buildup in Iraq is over in July, there will be a total of about 140,000 U.S. troops there. That would leave about 8,000 more troops on the ground in Iraq than when the troop build-up, known as the surge, began in January of last year. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington, officials also said troop levels in Afghanistan are going up.

Lieutenant General Carter Ham, operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had news on troop levels at Monday's Pentagon briefing.

"Our projection for Afghanistan, is that by late summer we will have about 32,000 U.S. forces there," said General Ham. "That is a little bit more than we have now, we're about 28,000 now. The bulk of that are the 3,200 Marines that will deploy in the coming month," said Lieutenant General Carter Ham, operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This would bring U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to an all-time high.

Ham also had a projection for force levels in Iraq.

"In Iraq, we are now projecting 140,000 troops there in July," he said. "This accounts for previously announced troop rotations and the drawdown of the five surge brigades and the Marine battalions without replacement."

Early last year, President Bush ordered an additional five Army brigades, along with support forces, to Iraq in an effort to reduce violence, avert civil war and give Iraq's rival factions "breathing space" for political reconciliation. The surge spread an additional 30,000 U.S. troops mainly in and around Baghdad.

The extra brigades are to leave in July, but General Ham said today some support forces will need to stay behind to back-up Iraq's security forces.

Ham again refused to set a timetable for reducing overall troop levels in Iraq, saying it is premature.

"There certainly is full expectation that there will be further reductions," said General Ham. "When those will begin and at what pace they will continue is premature at this point to talk about that."

General Petraeus is expected to make his recommendations public in early April for U.S. force levels in Iraq for the rest of the year, after the surge troops finish withdrawing in July. U.S. Defense Secretary Gates has said he hopes the withdrawal can continue at the same pace, but General Petraeus has said he might call for a pause in the drawdown to assess its impact on the security situation.