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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Pentagon's about-face on Iraq

By Nick Childs
BBC Pentagon correspondent

The White House is playing down its request for another $25bn in extra funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US troops in Iraq
Tanks and armoured vehicles are being redeployed
It is calling the money a contingency reserve or an insurance policy.

For its critics, this is an embarrassing U-turn by an administration that had said it would not need to ask for extra money until after the next presidential election.

But the Pentagon may have carried out a more significant about-face just 24 hours previously.

It announced that it was mobilising an additional 10,000 troops for Iraq, and a similar number to follow, to keep up troop levels there until the end of next year.

Amid all the furore over the prisoner abuse controversy, the move has gone almost unnoticed.

It followed the bloodiest month for US forces in Iraq since the invasion, with 129 combat deaths among US troops.

Reinforcements

Before the latest upsurge in violence in Iraq, US strategy had been based on reducing its own troop numbers, switching to lighter, more mobile forces, and increasingly relying on growing numbers of new Iraqi security forces.

All that has changed.

Gen Abizaid barely hid his disappointment at the poor performance of Iraqi forces in the face of fighting
First, the head of US Central Command, General John Abizaid, put plans to cut the number of US troops to 115,000 on hold.

Some 20,000 soldiers were asked to stay on an extra 90 days beyond the one-year deployments they had expected, to keep numbers at about 135,000.

Then, as the violence continued to flare, US commanders urgently called for an extra 40 or so tanks for additional firepower and protection for their troops.

And General Abizaid barely hid his disappointment at the poor performance of many of the new Iraqi forces in the face of the new fighting.

Extra strain

Now the Pentagon says it is planning to keep 135-138,000 troops in Iraq until the end of next year.

Hence the call-up of additional forces, so that those who were asked to stay on longer in Iraq can return home.

COST OF THE WAR A YEAR ON
US military operations: $143bn*
Military operations (projected): $150bn-300bn
Reconstruction so far: $33bn (US $18.7bn)*
Reconstruction (projected): $50bn-100bn
Extra security: $40bn-80bn
Sources: CBO, CSIS, World Bank
* allocated for US fiscal years 2003-05
What is more, it is switching back to heavier forces, with more tanks and armoured vehicles.

This inevitably will put extra strain on a US military that was already struggling to maintain force levels in Iraq.

New efforts are also being put in place to retrain the new Iraqi security forces.

And, officially, the strategy has not changed.

But US commanders must be wondering if their latest plans will ultimately produce the improvements they have been promising in terms of security, when the enemy they face seems to be continually adapting and developing.

After all, the Pentagon has been saying for a long time that troop numbers has not been the problem.

But the Pentagon's critics argue that yet more are needed. They say what is being done is too little, too late.




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