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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 December 2006, 00:16 GMT
Bush considers US force expansion
US soldiers patrol a tense neighbourhood of Baghdad (2 December)
Mr Bush said the current military is being stretched too thin
US President George W Bush is considering a short-term increase in the size of the US force in Iraq, the White House has confirmed.

In a newspaper interview, Mr Bush also said he planned to expand the size of the military to deal with the broader, long-term fight against terrorism.

The new Defence Secretary Robert Gates has been asked to assess the idea.

On Monday, the Pentagon said Iraq violence was at its highest since 2004, when an interim government was created.

'The broader struggle'

A temporary deployment of extra troops in Iraq was "something that's being explored" as Mr Bush considers his strategy on Iraq, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

I talked about this to Secretary Gates and he is going to... come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea
US President Bush

Mr Bush said his decision to increase the size of the armed forces was not just in response to Iraq, but to the broader struggle against Islamic extremists worldwide.

"I'm inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops - the Army, the Marines," Mr Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The president gave no estimates on how many troops might be added but said he agreed with Pentagon and Capitol Hill officials that the current military is being stretched too thin.

The US currently has about 140,000 troops in Iraq.

"I talked about this to Secretary Gates and he is going to... come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea," Mr Bush said.

The president said he has not yet made a decision about a new strategy for Iraq, which he is expected to announce next month.

'Unvarnished views'

Robert Gates is sworn in as defence secretary
Mr Gates has said the US is not winning the war in Iraq
Attacks on US and Iraqi troops and civilians reached their highest level since power was handed over to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004, a Pentagon report said on Monday.

It said the number of attacks had risen to almost 1,000 a week, with the worst violence in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar, long the focus of activity by Sunni insurgents.

The report came just hours after the new US defence secretary said failure in Iraq would be a "calamity" that would haunt the US for many years.

Mr Gates spoke after taking his oath of office as the new US defence secretary, replacing Donald Rumsfeld.

He said Iraq was his top priority, adding that he would soon visit the country to hear the "unvarnished" views of US commanders on how to improve matters.

Mr Gates also vowed not to let Afghanistan become "a sanctuary for extremists" again.




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