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A Soldier's Soldier, Outflanked

Abizaid recently acknowledged that more U.S. troops, as well as Iraqi forces and international forces, "should have been available" to stabilize Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"General Shinseki was right," Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee, referring to then-Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki's prediction before the war -- dismissed by the Pentagon -- that several hundred thousand troops would be required to occupy Iraq.

Abizaid also made clear that his plans for a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq this year were aborted by a major, unanticipated outbreak of sectarian violence spurred by the February bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra. "We clearly did not achieve the force levels we had hoped to," Abizaid told reporters this fall, saying sectarian unrest could be "fatal" to Iraq.

Yet Abizaid has argued that the Army and Marine Corps, which face serious shortages of manpower and equipment, could simply not sustain a surge of 20,0000 troops into Iraq.

Some described Abizaid as having his hands tied by both the Bush administration in Washington and situations in Iraq that were beyond his control. Abizaid has also been frustrated over a lack of support in Iraq from other U.S. governmental agencies, believing military force is not the main tool for fighting what he has defined as the "long war" against violent extremists.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who has been friends with Abizaid for more than three decades and served with him in the 82nd Airborne Division in the mid-1970s, said Abizaid is "probably the most capable person we could have had because of his experience and his talent and his commitment to the troops he leads."

But Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said decisions made by former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top government leaders put Abizaid in a difficult position.

Reed, who said he has had several personal conversations with Abizaid over the past few years, cited as particularly important the decision to limit the number of U.S. forces going into Iraq during the invasion in 2003 and the failure to plan for stabilizing Iraq after initial combat operations. "I always got the sense the mission was under-resourced and vaguely defined," Reed said.


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