Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US military mulls moving troops to Baghdad

AFP , WASHINGTON

Henry Benton walks along a hillside in Lafayette, California, on Tuesday as he paints wooden crosses at a roadside memorial honoring US troops that have died in Iraq. The Lafayette city council is deciding whether or not it will force a property owner to remove the memorial, which features more than 400 wooden crosses and the sign that says ``In Memory of 2,867 US Troops Killed in Iraq,'' a statement that has offended many local residents who see the display as anti-patriotic.

PHOTO: AFP

The US military is considering withdrawing troops from Iraq's volatile al-Anbar Province to reinforce the capital Baghdad, ABC television reported on Tuesday, citing Pentagon officials.

US forces deployed in the largely Sunni western province have faced fierce fighting and suffered high casualties in the area, where the al-Qaeda network has built up a strong presence.

The chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, "is considering turning al-Anbar over to Iraqi security forces and moving US troops from there into Baghdad," the US television network ABC reported on its Web site.

"If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out [in al-Anbar], what's the point of having them out there?" a top military official was quoted as saying.

The Pentagon also was considering another option to increase the overall level of US troops in Iraq by two to five brigades, about 7,000 to 18,000 troops, ABC reported.

But raising the level of troops, which would only be sustainable for a temporary period of six to eight months, was opposed by top military officers overseeing US forces in Iraq, ABC reported.

A repositioning of forces in Iraq was more likely, the unnamed official said.

"There is a push for a change of footprint, not more combat power," the official told ABC.

A Pentagon spokeswomancould not confirm the report.

No decision on troops levels or redeployment would be taken for at least another two to three weeks to allow for a new defense secretary to take over, ABC said.

US President George W. Bush has named Robert Gates to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and lawmakers are expected to take up his nomination soon.

The ABC account followed another media report quoting a bleak intelligence assessment of prospects for the mainly US Marine force in the western province.

According to the Washington Post, the intelligence report concluded that the US military could not defeat the insurgency in the province nor counter the popularity of al-Qaeda among the Sunni population.

Barring the deployment of an additional 15,000 to 20,000 US troops to the region, as well as billions of dollars in aid, "there is nothing" US troops "can do to influence" the insurgency, said the intelligence report, cited by the Post.

The five-page report was written by Colonel Peter Devlin, a senior military intelligence officer with the Marine Expeditionary Force in the region.

Three months later, the findings remain relevant, a senior intelligence officer told the paper.

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