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White House considers boosting troops in Iraq

By Robert Burns
AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON — A White House laboring to find a new approach in Iraq said Tuesday it is considering sending more U.S. troops, an option that worries top generals because of its questionable payoff and potential backlash.

The military’s caution is based on two chief fears — that even temporarily shipping thousands of more troops would be largely ineffective in the absence of bold new political and economic steps, and that it would leave the already stretched Army and Marines Corps even thinner once the surge ended.

Military vs. political

They also worry that it feeds a perception that the strife and chaos in Iraq is mainly a military problem; in their view it is largely political, fed by economic distress.

Rep. Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who will become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next month, echoed those sentiments Tuesday. “I’m convinced the Army and the Marines are near the breaking point,” Skelton said, while expressing skepticism that a big troop surge would be worth the trouble.

With Iraq’s burgeoning chaos leaving the Bush administration with few attractive choices, it is studying a possible short-term troop increase. That proposal is the favorite option of some including potential 2008 presidential contender Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and analysts at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which has strong ties to the Bush administration.

Even the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which advocated removing most combat troops by early 2008, said it could support a temporary increase if U.S. commanders believe it would be effective. Roughly one-third of the 140,000 American troops in Iraq are combat forces.

President Bush said he plans to increase the overall size of the U.S. military because of its worldwide campaign against terrorism, saying he agreed with complaints that the armed forces are stretched too thin.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Bush used no figures but said he has asked his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, to produce a plan for increasing the military’s size. Donald H. Rumsfeld, who ran the Pentagon for the last six years, had long resisted calls to increase the size of the military, arguing that technological advances and organizational changes could give the Army and Marine Corps the extra capability it needed.

Supporters of a surge of American forces in Iraq see it as a potentially decisive move to halt the upward spiral of sectarian killings in Baghdad, which U.S. commanders have identified as the central prize in the Iraq war.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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