The U.S. Army is planning on the basis that it may have to maintain current troop levels in Iraq until at least 2010, its top general said on Wednesday.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said the United States was in a tough fight with insurgents in Iraq but his plans did not mean it would necessarily need to keep the present level of 15 combat brigades there for the next four years.
U.S. troops take their positions as shots are fired after a suicide car bomb attack in the northern city of Mosul, July 30, 2006. The U.S. Army is planning on the basis that it may have to keep its current high troop levels in Iraq until at least 2010, its chief of staff said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Khaled al-Mousily
Including those brigades, numbering about 3,500-4,000 soldiers each, the United States has about 141,000 troops in Iraq.
"We don't know what's going to happen but I'm telling you we're looking at our force and how we would continue this level two (troop) rotations beyond (now), so that's beyond 2010," he told reporters at the Pentagon.
"It's tough, there's no question about it, but I think we're doing well," Schoomaker said of the war.
"This is not a prediction that things are going poorly or better. It's just that I have to have enough ammo in the magazine that I can continue to shoot as long as they (commanders in Iraq) want us to shoot," he said.
Schoomaker's comments came less than four weeks before the November 7 election, in which President George W. Bush's Republican party's control of Congress is at stake, and the war has been a central campaign issue.
Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said he had hoped to cut troop levels by two brigades this year but abandoned that plan due to ongoing violence.
U.S. commanders have said current levels will now have to be sustained at least through next spring as U.S. troops battle the insurgency and sectarian attacks.
More than 2,750 U.S. troops and at least tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died since the March 2003 invasion. About 40 U.S. troops have been killed this month alone.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Army had to plan for a variety of scenarios but he and the president decided on troop levels with commanders on the ground. "General Schoomaker, and the Army, does not set force levels in Iraq," he said.
Schoomaker said the United States would not lose militarily in Iraq but ultimately it would be up to Iraqi authorities to solve the country's problems. The U.S. role was to help prepare Iraqi forces for that challenge.
"In the end it's going to be theirs and they're gonna have to deal with it," he said. "Anybody that thinks that victory is the absence of violence doesn't understand the nature of what it is."
At a news conference with Rumsfeld, Casey said he hoped Iraqi forces would control six or seven provinces by the end of this year, up from two now. He said he believed he had enough U.S. forces at present but did not rule out asking for more.
"It's a tough nut -- whether or not bringing in more troops, more U.S. troops, will have a significant long-term impact on the violence," he said.
Casey said attacks in Iraq were as high as they had ever been, and 90 percent of the violence takes place in five of Iraq's 18 provinces, which are home to just under half the country's population.
The U.S. military said roadside bomb attacks in Baghdad reached an all-time high last week. One week last month also saw the war's highest number of suicide bombings.
Asked if he would want those numbers to be far lower after more than three years of fighting, Schoomaker said: "Of course. I mean, we would like everything to be rosy here."
He continued: "You know, I wish there wasn't three (U.S.) school shootings in the last two weeks, OK? Or how many murders took place down here (in Washington) or, you know, how many cattle were rustled in Wyoming, you know, last night. I wish all that stuff would go away but it isn't, it's life."
Copyright © 2006 Reuters