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U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time
Bush chose a different term than Powell. "I haven't heard the word 'broken,' " he said, "but I've heard the word, 'stressed.' . . . We need to reset our military. There's no question the military has been used a lot. And the fundamental question is, 'Will Republicans and Democrats be able to work with the administration to assure our military and the American people that we will position our military so that it is ready and able to stay engaged in a long war?' "
Democrats pounced on Bush's comments. "I am glad he has realized the need for increasing the size of the armed forces . . . but this is where the Democrats have been for two years," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the new House Democratic Caucus chairman. Kerry issued a statement calling Bush's move a "pragmatic step needed to deal with the warnings of a broken military," but he noted that he opposes increasing troops in Iraq. Even before news of Bush's interview, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters that the military is "bleeding" and "we have to apply the tourniquet and strengthen the forces."
The Army has already temporarily increased its force level from 482,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001 to 507,000 today and soon to 512,000. But the Army wants to make that 30,000-soldier increase permanent and then add between 20,000 and 40,000 more on top of that, according to military and civilian officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Every additional 10,000 soldiers would cost about $1.2 billion a year, according to the Army. Because recruitment and training take time, officials cautioned that any boost would not be felt in a significant way until at least 2008.
Bush, who has always said that the United States is headed for victory in Iraq, conceded yesterday what Gates, Powell and most Americans in polls have already concluded. "An interesting construct that General Pace uses is, 'We're not winning, we're not losing,' " Bush said, referring to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, who was spotted near the Oval Office before the interview. "There's been some very positive developments. . . . [But] obviously the real problem we face is the sectarian violence that needs to be dealt with."
Asked yesterday about his "absolutely, we're winning" comment at an Oct. 25 news conference, the president recast it as a prediction rather than an assessment. "Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win," he said.
Bush said he has not yet made a decision about a new strategy for Iraq and would wait for Gates to return from a trip there to assess the situation. "I need to talk to him when he gets back," Bush said. "I've got more consultations to do with the national security team, which will be consulting with other folks. And I'm going to take my time to make sure that the policy, when it comes out, the American people will see that we . . . have got a new way forward."
Among the options under review by the White House is sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq for six to eight months. The idea has the support of important figures such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and has been pushed by some inside the White House, but the Joint Chiefs have balked because they think advocates have not adequately defined the mission, according to U.S. officials.
The chiefs have warned that a short-term surge could lead to more attacks against U.S. troops, according to the officials, who described the review on the condition of anonymity because it is not complete. Bush would not discuss such ideas in detail but said "all options are viable."
While top commanders question the value of a surge, they have begun taking moves that could prepare for one, should Bush order it. Defense officials said yesterday that the U.S. Central Command has made two separate requests to Gates for additional forces in the Middle East, including an Army brigade of about 3,000 troops to be used as a reserve force in Kuwait and a second Navy carrier strike group to move to the Persian Gulf.
Gates has yet to approve the moves, which could increase U.S. forces in the region by as many as 10,000 troops, officials said. The previous theater reserve force, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was recently moved to Iraq's Anbar province to help quell insurgent violence. Gen. George W. Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, has called for the additional brigade -- likely the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division -- to be positioned to move into Iraq hotspots if needed.
The additional carrier strike group would give Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the Central Command, more flexibility in a volatile region, said one official. While such a move would certainly send a pointed message to Iran, the official said it would also allow additional strike capabilities in Iraq.
Staff writers Robin Wright, Lori Montgomery, Josh White, Ann Scott Tyson, Michael Abramowitz and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.