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Allies May Pick Up Slack in Iraq

Pentagon wants other nations to contribute troops so U.S. can send some of its forces home.

June 06, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is in the final stages of negotiations with foreign governments to contribute as many as three divisions' worth of troops to operations in Iraq by September but has not yet finalized any arrangements, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials warn that if coalition countries do not contribute sizable numbers of troops to Iraq within the next six months, tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be forced to remain away from home for as long as nine months, throwing the Army's force "out of balance." The Army's typical deployment is six months.

Of the Army's 10 divisions worldwide, the equivalent of more than five either are in Iraq or are assigned to support the operations there -- a total of 186,000 soldiers, said a senior Pentagon official who spoke with a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity. The total includes support troops and reserve units as well as active-duty soldiers. In addition, thousands of Marines are still in Iraq, and 11,000 U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan.

At least one Army unit, the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, has been deployed for more than nine months. Army officials had hoped to send most of the troops in Iraq home far sooner.

"It is only a problem depending on how quickly it takes the coalition to come in to relieve the pressure," the official said.

Talking to reporters on Capitol Hill after briefing senators on the situation in Iraq, Rumsfeld said that help may be on the way. He said the U.S. was negotiating with 41 nations to contribute troops "to augment U.S. forces ... [and] in most cases replace them."

But Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned that only a small number of those countries -- none of which they named -- have committed forces.

Persuading others to participate will require "raising funds to assist them, or raising things like airlift or combat support, that type of thing," Rumsfeld said.

Myers said the troop influx could happen "even earlier, and [in] substantial numbers."

A spokesman for Myers declined to specify how many foreign troops Rumsfeld meant by saying "three divisions." The size of American military divisions varies but generally numbers between 10,000 and 20,000 troops.

Britain currently has two divisions of its forces in Iraq. Other coalition members contributing troops during the war included Australia and Poland.

Operations in Iraq are stretching U.S. ground forces thinner than they have been for three decades, the senior Pentagon official said.

He said there are more than 30,000 U.S. Army troops in Baghdad alone, plus 100,000 elsewhere in Iraq. About 45,000 Army support troops are in Kuwait, with others scattered in other countries nearby, the official added.

Those assignments are in addition to substantial deployments elsewhere in the world. The Army has one division in South Korea, one in Europe, three in the continental U.S. and smaller units in a variety of locations, including Alaska, Hawaii and South America.

In recent months, the Army has required soldiers in South Korea and elsewhere to lengthen their deployments, the senior official said.

"It's a very complex problem.... We're under a lot of stress."

Even if coalition troops flow into Iraq, it could be months before the Pentagon considered the country stable and secure enough to send large numbers of troops home, the senior official said.

"We're only 76 days into this thing," he added. "And this was not going into the drive-through. It is a sit-down deal."

The official said he hopes that the 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne divisions will be sent home within several months.

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