The U.S. military is preparing to announce a call-up of replacement forces for Iraq including a return of U.S. Marines and reservists. The decision comes amid increasingly sophisticated attacks on coalition forces there and no sign that other countries are ready to contribute more troops of their own.
General Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began letting members of Congress know what the Pentagon is expected to announce as early as Thursday - the call-up of thousands of additional National Guard and Reserve troops for duty in Iraq.
He says orders are also being issued for the expected call-up of Marine units as well, units which had left Iraq in September after leading the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's government in April.
Even though replacement U.S. forces are being sent to Iraq, General Pace says he still expects the overall number of American troops there will actually begin to come down next year, once more Iraqi forces are trained to take their place.
But on NBC's Meet the Press program Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said predicting the level of American forces in Iraq is not possible. It is something, he said, that will be determined largely by the security situation on the ground.
"Those questions can't be answered. Every time someone has answered those questions, they've been wrong," he said.
But Sergeant Raymond Littlefield, who is recovering in a military hospital in Germany from Sunday's attack on a U.S. military helicopter near Fallujah, sees no quick end to the American military presence. "Eventually, we will be heading back," he said. "It's going to be going on for a long time. Many years to come. I'm ready to do it. I'm proud to do it."
The Bush administration had expected that once the U.S. military mission in Iraq received United Nations backing, countries in Europe and the Middle East would contribute significant numbers of troops to the reconstruction effort. But those expectations have so far gone unfulfilled.