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Bush: US Needs To Increase Size Of Army, Marines December 20, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–President George W. Bush conceded Wednesday that sectarian violence has disrupted security and stability in Iraq, and said he’s decided the U.S. needs to boost the size of its military to sustain its effort in the war on terror.

Addressing reporters at a year-end press conference, Bush offered a sober assessment of the situation in Iraq, saying insurgents were successful in fomenting violence between Shia and Sunnis.

“Their success hurt our efforts to help the Iraqis rebuild their country, it set back reconciliation, it kept Iraq’s unity government and our coalition from establishing security and stability throughout the country,” the president said. “I’m not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it’s going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices because the enemy is merciless and violent.”

Bush, however, provided little new insight into his ongoing review of war policy. New Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on the ground in Baghdad, and Bush is waiting to hear his assessment of conditions there.

Though he didn’t comment on the specifics of his thinking about a way forward in Iraq, Bush outlined his intention to boost the size of the Army and Marines to help cope with the demands of the broader fight against terror.

“I’m inclined to believe we need an increase in the permanent size of both the United States Army and the United States Marines,” Bush said, adding that he will wait for Gates’s advice on the matter and speak with lawmakers.

“As we develop the specifics of the proposals over the coming weeks, I will not only listen to their views, we will work with them to see that this becomes a reality,” Bush said.

Bush first detailed his plans to enlarge the military in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Post. But amid warnings from top military commanders that current demands could ultimately “break” the active-duty army, he didn’t say how large he would like the military to become. The army currently has around 507,000 active-duty soldiers, up from 482,000 in 2001.

Bush declined to comment on how the strategy in Iraq will shift going forward.

“We’ll accomplish our objective, we got to constantly adjust our tactics to do so,” adding that Iraqi leaders need to assume more responsibility.

Following November’s electoral rebuke of the GOP, pressure is mounting on Bush to change course. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll earlier this month found Americans are more pessimistic about the situation in Iraq: seven in 10 want the new Democrat-led Congress to pressure the White House to begin bringing troops home within six months.

“I will tell you we’re looking at all options,” Bush said. “One of those options is increasing more troops. But in order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops.”

Bush is still in the midst of reviewing war policy in Iraq, and will update the nation on his plans sometime next month. Among the ideas under consideration is a temporary surge of 15,000 to 30,000 troops to Iraq, an option that the Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly oppose.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet about more troops,” he said. “I’m listening to our commanders. I’m listening to the Joint Chiefs, of course. I’m listening in and out of government. I’m listening to folks on the Baker-Hamilton commission about coming up with a strategy that helps us achieve our objective.”

Asked about his statement to the Washington Post this week that U.S. is neither winning nor losing in Iraq, Bush said his comments “reflected the fact that we’re not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted when I said at the time, and that the conditions are tough in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad.”

Bush said in October that “absolutely, we’re winning” in Iraq. On Wednesday, he characterized that statement as a prediction. “I believe that we’re going to win,” the president said.

By Henry J. Pulizzi, Dow Jones Newswires

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