Rumsfeld: Troop Reductions Not Likely Until Iraqis Stronger
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq, Oct. 10, 2004 There likely won't be a reduction in U.S. troop strength in Iraq until after the country's national elections in January, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a gathering of servicemembers here today.
About 2,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers, airmen, and sailors greeted Rumsfeld at this former Iraqi air force facility in western Iraq. The secretary took a C-17 transport aircraft from Manama, Bahrain, to attend a town hall meeting with the Al Asad troops, mostly Marines, inside a large, open-ended hanger.
During a question-and-answer session with the troops at Al Asad, Rumsfeld said the situation on the ground would first dictate how many American troops are needed in Iraq. Currently, there are about 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Secondly, Iraqi security forces must be strong enough to maintain order throughout Iraq before there can be large redeployment of U.S. troops out of the country, Rumsfeld said.
There are now about 100,000 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces, the secretary said. By the January elections, he added, there should be an additional 50,000 Iraqi security forces. Rumsfeld said the goal is to have 200,000 to 250,000 trained Iraqi security troops.
During the town hall meeting, Rumsfeld introduced Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al Shalan to the troops. The secretary saluted the efforts of Iraqi security forces, noting that more than 700 have died in service to their country.
Iraq is "ground zero" in the war against terrorism, Rumsfeld said, noting insurgents are trying to derail the new, sovereign, Iraqi government. Now is a test of wills, and victory over global terrorism will come "to those who are resolute and steadfast," he said.
America is indeed fortunate to have men and women in its military who can be counted upon "in this time of peril" for America," the secretary said.
After the town hall meeting, Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad to meet with senior U.S., coalition and Iraqi military and government officials. Right now, he noted to reporters after attending a senior-level meeting, U.S., coalition and Iraqi officials are concentrating on measures to ensure the January elections are successful.