The military force required to occupy a post-Saddam Iraq could comprise several hundred thousand troops, far higher than any estimate so far, the US Army's most senior general said last night.
General Eric Shinseki, the army's Chief of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq was "a piece of geography that's fairly significant" and that a post-war force would have to be big enough to maintain safety in a country with "ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems".
Questioned by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the most senior Democrat on the Committee, General Shinseki declined to give a specific estimate, saying he would rely on the recommendation of commanders in the region.
But he added in response to further probing that the figure would be "what's been mobilized to this point, something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers". And he added: "Assistance from friends and allies would be helpful."
The US and Britain will have massed at least 200,000 troops in the Gulf by the time a war might start, perhaps in mid-March. But it had been assumed until now that the post-war deployment would be much smaller, with Iraqi soldiers taking an increasing share of responsibilities.
Pentagon commanders have already complained that their forces are being stretched thin by the looming war with Iraq and the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd