Members Say Deploying More Troops to Iraq Would Be Counterproductive
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2003 Boosting the number of U.S. troops in Iraq would be counterproductive and take away a job best suited for the Iraqis themselves, congressional representatives said today at the Pentagon.
"The key for me is Iraqis providing security for Iraq," declared Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas, who, along with other members of Congress, met today with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after returning from a recent fact- finding trip to Iraq.
Thornberry pointed out Iraqis must relieve the U.S. burden of patrolling Iraq in the wake of the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. "What really counts," Thornberry said, "is Iraqis doing it (security) rather than anybody else."
About 130,000 U.S. troops and 25,000 coalition forces provide security and reconstruction aid in Iraq. More than 100,000 Iraqis conduct military, police, border and other security duties, and their number, U.S. officials estimate, is expected to double in a year or so.
And the ongoing task of training Iraqis to conduct their own internal security "is moving along at a good pace," Thornberry pointed out.
Rep. Vic Snyder from Arkansas said "he couldn't agree more" with Thornberry, noting that during the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo there was also much discussion about committing more U.S. ground troops to effect peace in the region.
At the time, Snyder recalled, Congress heeded the advice of senior Pentagon officials to not deploy more U.S. ground troops to the Balkans. "The professional judgment at the Pentagon was that we didn't need more people (in the Balkans)," Snyder noted, adding, "That proved, ultimately, to be correct."
He said if U.S. troop levels in Iraq were increased, it "would actually run the risk of a little bit of anti-American sentiment" by Iraqis.
Boosting U.S. forces in Iraq, Snyder continued, could also cause worldwide public opinion to conclude "the situation there is terrible and deteriorating because the Americans are putting in more people."
More U.S. troops aren't needed in Iraq, Snyder maintained, because "we are making progress (and) we are seeing more Iraqis come on line to do security."
Also, he said the delegation "couldn't find anybody from top to the bottom on (the) ground" within the U.S. military in Iraq "who gave us indication that they needed more people in Iraq."
However, Snyder noted, "We maybe need a little larger (U.S.) Army for rotational purposes," cautioning "that's another issue; that's not the same as more people in Iraq.
"That's simply saying we've got a lot of obligations around the world and we need a military large enough to deal with those," he said.
Rep. Gresham Barrett from South Carolina noted that Rumsfeld told the delegation that 118,000 Iraqis are now conducting security operations in their country.
"This is a force that we took from zero to 118,000 that's exciting," Barrett pointed out, noting U.S. troops are in Iraq "to train, to encourage, to build up their forces as we decrease ours."
Iowan Rep. Steve King acknowledged the difficulties in resuscitating a dilapidated Iraqi infrastructure that had suffered from decades of neglect.
Much of the American public, King pointed out, seems to mistakenly believe that the $20 billion approved by Congress for Iraqi reconstruction is just for repairing damage caused by the war. That, he maintained, isn't true.
"I saw maybe six buildings (in Iraq) that were damaged by coalition forces," King remarked, noting the money will be used to reconstruct Iraqi infrastructure that's been neglected for two generations.
"There's a lot of work to be done," he maintained, to get Iraq into the 21st century. For an example he cited Baghdad, a city of over 5 million citizens that "doesn't have a single traffic light."
Most Iraqi hospitals were built in the 1950 and '60s, King pointed out. The schools, he added, "were all stripped and looted" after the war, but now "many of those are up and functioning well."
Guam Rep. Madeleine Bordallo noted that the Iraqi people "are very pleased to have the Americans there and they do not want us to leave."
In Mosul, Bordallo said she saw U.S. military authorities team with Iraqi officials on re-establishing local government, security issues, and restoring health and education facilities.
U.S. forces are "working very closely with the Iraqis," Bordallo declared, noting that within a year or so she foresees "the American troop numbers diminish(ing) and the Iraqis taking over."