The debate over US options in Iraq has intensified with the military reportedly inclined to temporarily increase US forces by up to 30,000 troops while expanding training for Iraqi forces.
US President George W. Bush said no decision had been made on the matter, but the Washington Post reported on Monday that three basic options have emerged in a strategy review in the Pentagon, with the one gaining favor a hybrid that would beef up US forces for a short period to tamp down sectarian violence.
"I haven't made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases, and won't until I hear from a variety of sources," Bush said during his visit to Indonesia.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not comment specifically on the Post story, but said it would be "premature" to second-guess the outcome of a series of strategy reviews now underway.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday warned that US forces are trapped in Iraq and that Washington must find the right time to leave without plunging the country deeper into chaos.
General John Abizaid, the US commander in Iraq, said last week that a 20,000-troop increase in the 144,000-member US force would have a temporary effect on the violence ravaging the country. But he said the pool of available combat troops in the US Army and the Marine Corps was not large enough to sustain such an increase.
Abizaid said more troops were not needed at the moment, but he warned that a US withdrawal would lead to an increase in the sectarian violence.
The Post, which cited unidentified senior defense officials, said the secret Joint Staff review offers three basic options -- "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home."
The "Go Big" option calls for a classic counter-insurgency operation that would involve several hundred thousand additional US troops as well as heavily armed Iraqi police, the Post said. That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the US military and too few effective Iraqi forces, the paper said.
The "Go Home" option was reportedly rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown civil war.
The "Go Long" option calls for shrinking the US force in Iraq, replacing the current combat force with an extensive program of military advising and training for Iraqi security forces that would last for years, it said.
The Post said the military is leaning toward a combination of "Go Long" and "Go Big," surging US force levels by 20,000 to 30,000 troops for a short period while the training program is expanded.
According to the Post, once the transition has been made, US force levels in Iraq would drop to about 60,000.
Annan told a press conference that the question of the US military presence it is a difficult issue.
"The US is in a way trapped in Iraq, trapped in the sense that it cannot stay and it cannot leave," Annan said.
"The timing of its departure will have to be optimal," he said.
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