Bush will announce troop deployments Thursday

Some to stay in war zone longer; others to leave earlier
By Gordon Lubold - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 11, 2007 13:32:54 EST

More than 20,000 troops are now being notified that they will be extended or sent to Iraq early as part of the much-anticipated “surge” of troops President Bush will announce tonight.

Bush will say that more troops are needed there in a last-ditch effort to achieve some level of victory in Iraq. Tomorrow, Bush will name the five Army brigade combat teams and two Marine regimental combat teams will comprise the increased force-strength in Iraq, as well as the combat support and combat service support units required to support those combat units.

But since there aren’t many troops available, the Pentagon will order that some units stay in Iraq beyond their expected tour-lengths, while others will depart for Iraq early. Of the more than 20,000 service members affected by Bush’s announcement tonight about two-thirds will be deployed early and another third will be extended, a defense official said. One unit will only leave for Iraq two weeks prior to what its expected departure date was, the official said. Others will be longer.

Coming on the heels of the bloodiest year of the war for U.S. troops, Bush says sending more U.S. troops to help secure Baghdad, Anbar province and other areas in Iraq is the key to creating a peace, creating an opportunity for the Iraqis to reach the political reconciliation necessary to stabilize the country. In prepared remarks released prior to the speech at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Bush will acknowledge that past efforts to secure Baghdad had failed because there were not enough Iraqi and American troops to support the “clear-and-hold” strategy. Too often, American forces cleared an area, only to move on, allowing sectarian violence to fill in the void.

But the new plan is different because there will be more troops available to hold those areas, Bush will say, according to his prepared remarks.

“There were too many restrictions on the troops we did have, and our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes,” according to the prepared statement.

In announcing the new strategy, Bush is changing his stance on the level of commitment the U.S. can provide. The Bush administration, under pressure to withdraw troops within certain timeframes, has for months maintained that it would not agree to a timeline for when U.S. troops would come home. But now on the hot seat to sell his plan to a Democratically-controlled Congress, Bush has reversed himself, saying his renewed commitment to the Iraqis is not open-ended.

“If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people – and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people,” according to Bush’s prepared remarks. “Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this.”

Bush said failing to support the Iraqis now would mean the U.S. would be cornered into a commitment later.

“To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government … such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal,” Bush will say. “If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops being coming home.”

But this isn’t an about-face for Bush, according to a senior administration official.

“He hasn’t got time lines, he’s got benchmarks – benchmarks that the Iraqis have set for themselves,” said the official. “And he’s basically saying, look, it is time for them to perform.”

Prospects for success in Iraq are grim for many, and while officials and academics aren’t necessarily against the surge, they don’t think it will have much of an effect.

Four experts testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, newly led by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. Most agreed that a surge of troops would only be effective if done with a renewed emphasis on political reconciliation, significant economic initiatives and the beginning of a diplomatic approach to the Middle East as a whole – a proposal Bush has continued to reject.

“While I’m not against a surge proposal if done in a broader context, I’d be skeptical at this point that it would make any difference,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior analyst at the Brookings Institute, a liberal think-tank in Washington. But the Iraqis will need much more time to get their political act together, and that may exceed the amount of time an already impatient American public is willing to give, said another panel member.

“Their timeframe is a much longer one,” said Phebe Marr, an author and expert on Iraq.

“I frankly think that this kind of instability is going to go on for a very long time until the population and the political leadership comes to the conclusion that they’re losing more than they’re gaining,” said Marr, who first visited Iraq in 1957.

“Whether our patience is going to last with it is an open question,” she said