By STEWART M. POWELLWhite House prepping U.S., Congress for long troop stayMon Jun 11, 2007 20:31
June 9, 2007, 10:06PM
White House prepping U.S., Congress for long troop stay
Officials begin to downplay Iraq status report that's due in September
By STEWART M. POWELL and ERIC ROSENBERG
Copyright 2007 Hearst News Service
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration and top military commanders are looking beyond the promised September progress report on Iraq and are preparing Congress and the American public for a long-term presence of U.S. troops in the occupied nation.
Officials have started downplaying the importance of the September assessment by Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker as they work to lower public expectations about any quick progress in Iraq.
Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, confirmed Thursday that barely one-third of Baghdad's 457 neighborhoods have been secured by U.S. forces five months after the start of the emergency U.S. troop build-up that President Bush announced Jan. 10. Fil said he hopes to gain control of at least half the city of 7 million by September.
"Quite honestly, we're still early on this campaign, and it's one that's got to be measured in terms of months — not weeks," Fil told National Public Radio.
Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the designated White House war czar, echoed the assessment, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee: "Where are we today? Not where any of us would like."
Top officials led by President Bush have begun citing the "Korean model" as a precedent for future stationing of U.S. forces in Iraq. Some 54 years after the cease-fire in the Korean War, there are 29,000 U.S. troops in South Korea in a stand-by mode in case of renewed hostilities.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says U.S. military forces will be in Iraq "for a protracted period of time."
Bush and Gates have described a scenario in which American units would be pulled back to permanent bases in Iraq, a step that would help U.S. forces indefinitely provide Iraqi security forces with logistical support to fight insurgents.
Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service — a branch of the Library of Congress — says officials are laying the groundwork for an extended U.S. stay.
"There is an increasing realization that a glowing report is simply not going to be viewed as credible," Katzman said. Officials are "preparing the political landscape for a report that is not glowing ... and that not all U.S. troops would be leaving."
Pentagon deployment orders issued so far for Army and Marine combat units show a growing number of American military personnel in Iraq. An analysis of these orders by Hearst Newspapers last month showed that elements of 17 combat brigades in Iraq in January could grow to elements of as many as 28 combat brigades in Iraq by December.
The Pentagon deployment schedule enables the Bush administration to achieve quick increases in combat forces in the future by delaying units' scheduled departures from Iraq and overlapping them with arriving replacement forces, said Lawrence Korb, an assistant defense secretary for manpower during the Reagan administration.
"The administration is giving itself the capability to increase the number of troops in Iraq," Korb said. "It remains to be seen whether they actually choose to do that."
The September progress report on Iraq began as an off-hand pledge by Petraeus to the Senate Armed Services Committee during confirmation proceedings in January to become a four-star general overseeing U.S. operations in Iraq.
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