Bush to Shift Troops to Afghanistan From Iraq
President George W. Bush will announce Tuesday a gradual redeployment of U.S. military personnel from Iraq to increasingly violent Afghanistan, with as many as 4,500 new troops slated to deploy to Afghanistan by January.
The additional forces will be charged with defeating the resurgent Taliban and protecting the Afghan populace. The troop increases in Afghanistan will be accompanied by the withdrawal of approximately 8,000 military personnel from Iraq by February. Additional troops may leave Iraq in early 2009 if "the progress in Iraq continues to hold," according to an advance copy of a speech Mr. Bush will deliver at Washington, D.C.'s Fort McNair Tuesday morning.
The planned changes represent an attempt to preserve Iraq's recent gains while freeing up modest numbers of additional forces for Afghanistan. Senior U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have said they need at least three additional combat brigades, or 10,500 to 12,000 more troops. The plan being announced by Mr. Bush would meet less than half of that request.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Monday that Mr. Bush hoped to "cement" Iraq's gains while finding more troops for Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Mr. Bush's decision was an endorsement of a recommendation late last week from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In Iraq and Afghanistan the changing dynamics in the two war zones are a cause of concern -- and sometimes sharp disagreements -- for senior American commanders. Iraq's once-unrelenting violence has subsided markedly in recent months, with the numbers of attacks now down to levels not seen since 2004. In August, 23 U.S. troops died in Iraq, one of the lowest monthly tallies since the 2003 invasion.
In Afghanistan, Taliban militants have stepped up their attacks on American and NATO forces across the country. In mid-August, insurgents killed 10 French paratroopers in a single incident. More U.S. troops now die in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
Military officials have been divided about how to respond to the shifting dynamics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, initially wanted to keep the level of troops in Iraq -- now at 146,000 -- steady until next summer, according to military officials in Baghdad. Military commanders at the Pentagon favored withdrawing as many as three brigades in coming months to free up more personnel for Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said.
A Pentagon official said that the final compromise reflected the consensus views of Adm. Mullen; Gen. Petraeus; Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who will assume command in Iraq later this month; Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan; and Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the head of Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As detailed in Mr. Bush's prepared remarks, roughly 3,400 "combat support forces" -- aviation personnel, bomb-disposal experts and engineers -- will leave Iraq in coming months. A Marine battalion now serving in Anbar Province, once Iraq's deadliest place and now one of its most stable, will withdraw in November. An Army combat brigade of about 3,500 soldiers will withdraw in February.
Over roughly the same time period, troop levels in Afghanistan will move higher. Mr. Bush will announce plans to shift a Marine battalion slated to deploy to Iraq in November over to Afghanistan instead. In January, an additional Army brigade will deploy there.
Source: Wall Street Journal