U.S. Needs ‘Long-Term Presence’ in Iraq, Gates Says
By DAVID S. CLOUD | September 27, 2007
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Congress on Wednesday that he envisioned keeping five combat brigades in Iraq as a “long-term presence.”
Mr. Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee, “When I speak of a long-term presence, I’m thinking of a very modest U.S. presence with no permanent bases, where we can continue to go after Al Qaeda in Iraq and help the Iraqi forces.”
He added that “in my head” he envisioned a force as a quarter of the current combat brigades.
There are now 20 combat brigades in the country, a number that is scheduled to drop to 15 by next summer. Mr. Gates has previously expressed hope that if security conditions in the country continue to improve, force levels in Iraq could drop to 10 brigades by the end of 2008.
Mr. Gates gave no timetable for reaching that force level or for how long the forces would be required to stay. He added that there had been no detailed planning by the Pentagon about what level of forces would be required on a more or less permanent basis.
A combat brigade has 3,500 to 4,500 soldiers, leaving a minimum of 17,500 combat troops in Iraq under the plan Mr. Gates described. The total American force required would probably end up being at least twice that, because of the need for support troops and other related personnel.
Mr. Gates also laid out at the hearing a Bush administration request for an added $42 billion for war-related expenses in 2008. The request increases to nearly $190 billion the amount the Bush administration is seeking for 2008 to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In February, the administration asked for $141.7 billion for the wars, an amount that officials said at the time was an estimate that could increase.
The Appropriations Committee chairman, Senator Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, responded with blistering criticism of the administration’s Iraq strategy and warned that his panel would not “rubber stamp” Mr. Bush’s requests for war financing.
“The president and his supporters claim that we’re now finally on the cusp of progress and that we must continue to stay the course,” Mr. Byrd said. “I’ve heard that before. Call me a skeptic, but we have heard this tune before. Yes, haven’t we?”
Antiwar protesters in the hearing room responded with cries of “Yes! Yes!”
Mr. Byrd later had the room cleared of protesters after they disrupted an answer by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Gates said $11 billion of the requested money was for building 15,000 heavily armored vehicles designed to better withstand the roadside bombs that cause the majority of American casualties in Iraq.
The Pentagon also seeks $9 billion to repair and refit American equipment stocks. The administration is also requesting $1 billion to train Iraqi security forces, bringing the total 2008 request for training funds to $5.7 billion.
But Mr. Gates said that American troops, “under some of the most trying conditions, have done far more than what was asked of them, and far more than what was expected.”