By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 11, 2007
ANCHORENA PARK, Uruguay, March 10 -- President Bush approved 8,200 more U.S. troops for Iraq and Afghanistan on top of reinforcements already ordered to those two countries, the White House said Saturday, a move that comes amid a fiery debate in Washington over the Iraq war.
The president agreed to send 4,700 troops to Iraq in addition to the 21,500 he ordered to go in January, mainly to provide support for those combat forces and to handle more anticipated Iraqi prisoners. He also decided to send a 3,500-member brigade to Afghanistan to accelerate training of local forces, doubling his previous troop increase to fight a resurgent Taliban.
Although officials had foreshadowed the additional forces for Iraq in recent days, the latest troop increase in Afghanistan had not been known and will bring U.S. forces there to an all-time high. The deployments underscore the challenges facing the United States in both countries and further stretch an already strained military. In Iraq particularly, the moves could fuel suspicions that a troop increase initially described as a temporary "surge" may grow larger and last longer than predicted.
Bush did not comment on his decision during the second day of a six-day Latin America tour. But aides released a letter he signed Friday night aboard Air Force One as he flew to Uruguay from Brazil, asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for $3.2 billion in emergency funding to pay for the additional units. He proposed cuts in other spending to offset the cost.
"This revised request would better align resources based on the assessment of military commanders to achieve the goal of establishing Iraq and Afghanistan as democratic and secure nations that are free of terrorism," Bush said in the letter.
The president's decision came as congressional Democrats are struggling to find a way to reverse direction in Iraq. Bush aides said this week that the president would veto a House Democratic spending plan that would require him to certify that the Iraqi government has met certain benchmarks by certain dates to keep U.S. forces in the country. The plan would require, under any circumstance, that troop withdrawals begin March 1, 2008, and that remaining troops be out of combat roles by Aug. 31, 2008.
Pelosi blasted Bush on Saturday. "With his veto threat," she said, "the president offers only an open-ended commitment to a war without end that dangerously ignores the repeated warnings of military leaders, including the commander in Iraq, General [David H.] Petraeus, who declared in Baghdad this week that the conflict cannot be resolved militarily."
The attention to Iraq and Afghanistan came as Bush tried to focus on restoring ties with Latin America. He flew by helicopter to a scenic, woodsy waterfront ranch here to have lunch and talk trade with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez. After sampling Uruguayan barbecue, the president headed out on a boat excursion with Vazquez. Despite days of protests around the region, Bush was largely spared any signs of hostility other than large hand-painted graffiti facing his hotel in the capital, Montevideo, that said: "Get Out Bush the Murderer."
The $3.2 billion that Bush requested in his letter to Pelosi would pay for 2,400 combat support troops, 2,200 military police officers and 129 soldiers to man provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. It would also fund additional military equipment and efforts to reopen Iraqi state factories.
For Afghanistan, it would fund Bush's decision announced last month to extend a temporary increase of 3,200 U.S. troops there "for the foreseeable future." It would also pay for an additional 3,500-member training brigade, a move that was not previously announced.
"This is part of the effort to speed up the training and expand the size of the Afghan forces, an effort the president talked about in his Afghan/GWOT speech in February," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, using an acronym for "global war on terror." "This request for an additional brigade for training executes that policy announcement."
Officials have signaled that even more forces may yet be dispatched to Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told lawmakers this week that as many as 7,000 additional support troops may be sent. And the commander for northern Iraq said he needs more troops to quell sectarian violence.
Petraeus seems inclined to extend the mission beyond the six-month time frame envisioned by his predecessor, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. Casey and other officials had said they hoped to see results from the troop increase by August, when more brigades could begin to withdraw. But Petraeus said this week that he thinks it will "need to be sustained, certainly for some time well beyond the summer."