Rumsfeld Is Cautious on Iraq Force Reduction Predictions
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2006 Some Beltway pundits have opined that U.S. force levels in Iraq could fall to 100,000 by the end of this year, but the Defense Department's top official said he won't play the speculation game.
The Iraqi security forces, now at about 227,000 soldiers and police, are "doing a good job," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told attendees at the National Press Club here today.
"They're increasingly experienced. They're increasingly well-equipped," Rumsfeld said, noting U.S. military members are embedded in Iraqi units to provide mentoring, if needed.
"We have near instantaneous visibility into what their weaknesses are," the secretary said, "and to the extent those kinds of weaknesses can be rectified, they get rectified in a relatively short period of time."
And as Iraqi forces become more numerous, capable and assume additional security duties from U.S. and other coalition forces, then "we're going to stand down," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said the Iraqis successfully handled security for their Dec. 15 nationwide elections, while U.S. and other coalition forces were able to remain in a standby status. And the 8th Iraqi Army Division recently took over primary security duties across two provinces, he said, that put together amount to an area about the size of the state of Kentucky.
"And as that keeps going, we ought to be able to pull down our troops," Rumsfeld said. There are now about 138,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, down from around 160,000 at the time of the December elections. And Pentagon officials have voiced the possibility that those 138,000 troops could be reduced further in coming months.
However, "anyone who predicts 100,000 or some other number, I think, is making a mistake," Rumsfeld said. The situations in Syria and Iran, he said, would have to be considered before making a reduction to that level. Both those countries share a border with Iraq, are known to sponsor terrorism, and are suspected of interfering in Iraqi affairs.
And there's the Sunni insurgency to consider, the secretary said, as well as al Qaeda terrorist activity inside Iraq.
"There are all kinds of variables," Rumsfeld said, adding he couldn't predict future U.S. troop levels in Iraq with any accuracy.
"But we've gone down from 160,000 back down to our baseline of 138,000," Rumsfeld said. And senior U.S. military commanders overseeing operations in Iraq, he said, have recommended an additional two-brigade reduction. That cut "will be happening," Rumsfeld said. Pentagon officials have said that a brigade contains 3,000-3,500 troops.
"And as the Iraqis continue to be more capable and they have bigger numbers, one would think we'd be able to continue that track," Rumsfeld concluded.