U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time

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By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; 10:20 AM

President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning."

In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the breaking point.

"We need to reset our military," said Bush, whose administration had opposed increasing force levels as recently as this summer. Gates, who was sworn in Monday, arrived in Baghdad this morning for several days of meetings with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi officials.

In a wide-ranging Oval Office interview that also focused on Bush's domestic agenda, the president said he did not interpret the Democratic election victories six weeks ago as a mandate to bring U.S. involvement in Iraq to an end. Instead, he said, he considers the outcome a call to find new ways to make the mission there succeed. Bush confirmed that he is considering a short-term surge in troops in Iraq, an option that top generals have resisted out of concern that it would not help.

A substantial military expansion will take years and would not immediately affect the war in Iraq. But it would begin to address the growing alarm among commanders about the state of the armed forces. Although the president offered no specifics, other U.S. officials said the administration is preparing plans to bolster the nation's permanent active-duty military with as many as 70,000 additional troops.

A force structure expansion would accelerate the already-rising costs of war. The administration is drafting a supplemental request for more than $100 billion in additional funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the $70 billion already approved for this fiscal year, according to U.S. officials. That would be over 50 percent more than originally projected for fiscal 2007, making it by far the costliest year since the 2003 invasion.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved more than $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for terrorism-related operations elsewhere. An additional $100 billion would bring overall expenditures to $600 billion, exceeding those for the Vietnam War, which, adjusted for inflation, cost $549 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

For all the money, commanders have grown increasingly alarmed about the burden of long deployments and the military's ability to handle a variety of threats around the world simultaneously. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, warned Congress last week that the active-duty Army "will break" under the strain of today's war-zone rotations. Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, a retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CBS News's "Face the Nation" on Sunday that "the active Army is about broken."

Democrats have been calling for additional troops for years. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) proposed an increase of 40,000 troops during his 2004 campaign against Bush, only to be dismissed by the administration. As recently as June, the Bush administration opposed adding more troops because restructuring "is enabling our military to get more war-fighting capability from current end strength."

But Bush yesterday had changed his mind. "I'm inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops -- the Army, the Marines," he said. "And I talked about this to Secretary Gates, and he is going to spend some time talking to the folks in the building, come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea."

In describing his decision, Bush tied it to the broader struggle against Islamic extremists around the world rather than to Iraq specifically. "It is an accurate reflection that this ideological war we're in is going to last for a while and that we're going to need a military that's capable of being able to sustain our efforts and to help us achieve peace," he said.


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