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U.S. plans big troop rotation, will reduce forces

By Wire services
Published November 7, 2003

WASHINGTON - Rejecting calls for more U.S. troops in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld unveiled a rotation plan Thursday that would lower the number there to 105,000 from 130,000 by May.

The plan will send 85,000 Army and Marine Corps combat forces to Iraq early next year to relieve troops completing one-year tours, a rotation that when combined with another switchout of troops in Afghanistan will be the Army's largest sequence of troop movements since World War II.

In addition, 43,000 National Guard and Reserve support troops have been alerted that they may be sent to Iraq, and 3,700 have been slated for tours in Afghanistan.

Freshly minted Iraqi security forces and U.S. reservists will be relied on more heavily in the fight against Saddam Hussein loyalists and Islamic militants.

"The U.S. footprint will depend on the security situation, which is continually being reassessed by the commanders on the ground," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing.

"I have not been told of a single military commander in Iraq who is recommending additional U.S. military forces - not one."

The announcement of the new plan, which includes the deployment of a division of Marines to ease the burden on the Army, came a day after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called on the administration to add 20,000 troops to the 130,000 there now.

"We do not have sufficient forces in Iraq to meet our military objectives," McCain said. "Prematurely placing the burden of security on Iraqis is not the answer."

About 115,700 Iraqis are either on duty or being trained in one of five security forces created by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, Pentagon officials said. Those include police, a new Iraqi army, border guards, facility guards and a civil defense corps.

Iraqi security forces are projected to grow to 200,000 or more by the time the U.S. rotation plan is in effect next spring.

"While the number of U.S. forces may be level or decline slightly, this much is certain: The overall capability of the security forces in Iraq will increase," Rumsfeld said. "As other countries consider deployments, as they are, the total number of coalition forces, including Iraqi security forces, clearly will grow, as it has been growing every month for the past three or four months."

Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, director for operations on the Pentagon's Joint Staff, said the reduction in U.S. forces will mainly cut support personnel rather than combat troops.

"We are going from seven bridging companies to two because we're contracting out some of the bridging requirements," Schwartz said.

Reservists and National Guard troops account for about 28,000 of the 130,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq at the moment, he said. By May, the total is expected to be 105,000, of whom 66,000 would be active duty troops and 39,000 Reservists and National Guard.

Schwartz said the increased reliance on Reserves and National Guard troops is necessary because "we are at war."

Most personnel sent to Iraq will serve one-year tours, officials said, but the Marines will rotate two contingents of about 21,000 members who will serve seven-month tours, said Marine Corps. Lt. Gen. Jan Huly, deputy commandant for plans, policy and operations.

- Information from the Dallas Morning News and Associated Press was used in this report.

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