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Joint Chiefs Advise Change In War Strategy
But as the sources described yesterday, the military planning in both Washington and Baghdad is far along, in some ways tracking the ideas presented last week by the Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former U.S. representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), for instance in the emphasis on reshaping the U.S. military mission to focus on training and advising.
Thousands of U.S. combat troops in Iraq would become embedded advisers with Iraqi security forces. About 4,000 U.S. troops are now serving on 11-person military training teams embedded with Iraqi forces. The new plan would add 30 troops to each team, allowing them to provide supervision and mentoring down to the level of Iraqi army companies -- a step seen as critical to bolstering Iraqi units and preventing sectarian violence.
Meanwhile, the remaining seven to eight brigades of U.S. combat forces would focus on three core missions: striking al-Qaeda, strengthening security along Iraq's borders, and protecting major highways and other routes to ensure U.S. forces freedom of movement in Iraq.
The plan would not allow for any major reduction in U.S. troops in Iraq over the next year -- nor would it call for any surge in troops, as some, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have advocated.
The Pentagon chiefs also are urging that any new strategy be sensitive to regional context, particularly the impact of political or military decisions. They are concerned that any decision to effectively throw U.S. support to the Shiite majority may lead Sunni governments in the region to take a more active role in supporting Sunni insurgents. But they are also concerned that a crackdown on Iraq's largest Shiite militia, the Mahdi army, may have repercussions on Iran's actions in Iraq, say officials familiar with the ongoing review.
A constant subtext in the meeting yesterday, and in the ongoing White House review, is the Joint Chiefs' growing concern about the erosion of the U.S. military's ability to deal with other crises around the world because of the heavy commitment in Iraq and the stress on troops and equipment, said officials familiar with the review. The chiefs planned to tell Bush of the significantly increased risk to readiness in the event of a new emergency, rather than push for a timeline to leave Iraq.
Staff writers Michael Abramowitz, Thomas E. Ricks and Josh White contributed to this report.