YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


More Troops Needed, Analysts Insist

Pentagon disagrees, saying more Iraqis should be defending their own country.

August 20, 2003|John Hendren and Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Amid calls for the Bush administration to reevaluate its handling of the Iraq occupation in the wake of Tuesday's deadly truck bombing in Baghdad, Pentagon officials stood by their position that they do not need more troops to ensure security.

The shift in tactics by insurgents toward attacking "soft" targets such as foreign aid workers and Iraq's own infrastructure poses a new set of security challenges by significantly increasing the number of potential sites and victims, analysts said.

Retired Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, former commander of U.S. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said the deteriorating situation called for an additional four brigades -- as many as 25,000 troops -- besides the 146,000 U.S. troops already there.

"The pattern we have seen since earlier this month shows there is a terror offensive taking place," said Nash, now with the Council on Foreign Relations. "It's not going to stop unless we put a stop to it."

Pentagon officials insist that is not under consideration. Instead, they call for involving more Iraqis in the defense of their own country.

"There are more answers to the security situation than more guards," a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Perhaps one of the big results coming from this will be Iraqis recognizing the need to assume responsibility for their own security."

Officials in Baghdad have warned in recent weeks that the risk of terrorist attacks had climbed sharply. U.S. troops had begun erecting barriers around military and some potential civilian targets, designed to stop vehicles such as the bomb-laden cement truck that ripped through U.N. headquarters Tuesday.

Pentagon officials said that U.N. officials had not requested security from U.S. forces at their hotel headquarters.

Gamal Ibrahim, who had served until recently as the personal bodyguard of U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died in the blast, said his security team felt that coalition forces were not providing sufficient protection for the U.N. headquarters, and asked for submachine guns for his detail. The guns arrived at the beginning of August, he said.

"We were protecting the head of the U.N. with a 9-millimeter pistol when everybody else in Baghdad had an automatic weapon," said Ibrahim, who returned to New York from Baghdad three weeks ago and said there had been a threat against the U.N. headquarters in Iraq about a week ago.

Iraqi Face on Security

Pentagon officials contend that putting more Iraqis in charge of security -- and in harm's way -- will undercut public support for the attacks because they would endanger Iraqis rather than Americans.

U.S. military strategists envision an expanded police force, a new Iraqi army and a paramilitary civil defense force that would work with coalition troops to protect an increasing number of buildings.

But putting an Iraqi face on security will take months. The Iraqi army will number just 12,000 at year's end and 40,000 at its full force in two years, and the civil defense force is envisioned at just 3,500 fighters within the next month and about 30,000 in four years.

The United States will also step up its efforts to persuade more countries to send troops, although it was not immediately clear whether that campaign would be helped or hindered by Tuesday's blast.

"A lot of countries prefer to send troops to relatively quiet places," said Ruth Wedgwood, an international law professor at Johns Hopkins University and a terrorism expert. "This isn't going to help."

Officials have said they have commitments for up to 30,000 foreign troops, many of whom will be arriving this month and next. But they are intended not to increase overall troop levels but to replace some U.S. soldiers so they can return home. Many of the foreign troops are scheduled to begin leaving in February.

The Pentagon has pending requests for thousands more troops from Turkey, Pakistan, India and several European countries. Although some of the governments are eager to strengthen their ties to the Bush administration, they may have a tough battle overcoming resistance from their citizens, many of whom don't want their nations bolstering what they view as an occupation force.

Ultimately, President Bush might have no choice but to increase troop levels, said Michele Flournoy, a former deputy assistant defense secretary in the Clinton administration. The ratio of troops to population in Iraq is less than in Kosovo and Bosnia, she said, and should be increased.

"We don't have the overwhelming troop presence required to provide the foundation for winning the peace in Iraq," said Flournoy, now a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The bombing should raise the question of whether we need more troops to secure the environment."

The troops now on the ground are insufficient if anti-coalition forces continue going after nonmilitary targets, agreed Patrick Garrett, an analyst at of Alexandria, Va.

Los Angeles Times Articles