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Unspoken consensus: U.S. short on troops
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Bush administration's decision to move as many as 4,000 additional U.S. soldiers into Baghdad to quell sectarian warfare underscores a problem that's hindered the American military from the beginning: There aren't enough troops.
Many U.S. officials in Baghdad and in Washington privately agree.
When U.S. forces have cracked down in one place, Iraqi insurgents and foreign terrorists have popped up in another. Some towns have been pacified multiple times, only to return to chaos as soon as troop numbers are reduced.
That reality has taken a toll on American morale, undermined Iraqi confidence in the United States and cast doubt on the Bush administration's hopes of beginning significant withdrawals of soldiers and Marines this year. There are 130,000 service members in Iraq.
"This is exactly what happens when there aren't enough troops: You extend people, and you deplete your theater reserve," said a U.S. defense official in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Almost no high-ranking, active-duty U.S. officers will discuss concerns about troop levels publicly, for fear of being reprimanded or having their careers cut short. There's an unwritten understanding, they said, that the Bush administration doesn't want to hear about the need for more troops.
The top American military officer in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, has said such assertions are untrue.
But the American defense official in Iraq said officers were discouraged from making such requests, and officers in Washington and at Central Command confirmed that.
"If you say something, you're gone, you're relieved, you're not in the Army anymore," the U.S. defense official in Iraq said.
In February 2003, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki told a Senate committee that the force required to occupy Iraq would be "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers."
Shinseki retired ahead of schedule amid denials from Rumsfeld that several hundred thousand troops were necessary. Many U.S. officers think he was pushed out.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company