WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will probably have more troops in Iraq this summer than it did before pouring in forces last year — even after a planned drawdown, a U.S. general said on Friday.
There were some 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq before President George W. Bush ordered a surge of about 30,000 more to curb rampant violence that threatened to plunge the country into all-out civil war.
By summer, U.S. commanders plan to have withdrawn more than 20,000 combat troops deployed as part of the surge. But officials indicated some support units sent around the same time would remain or be replaced.
“It’s likely that... the (total) number will be a little bit larger than the 132,000 or so that was the number of personnel on the ground pre-surge,” said Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director of operations on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
Sattler said he could not be more precise yet as commanders had still to complete their plans, but a Pentagon source said the number could be as high as 140,000.
At the same news briefing, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler said Iraqi forces would continue to need substantial help from U.S. support troops in areas such as logistics.
“We will still be required for a period of time to provide those enablers,” said Sattler, the Joint Staff’s director of strategic plans and policy.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates, on a visit to Baghdad this week, backed the idea of a pause in drawdowns after the extra combat troops have pulled out.
That increased the prospect that troop levels could still be around 130,000 when Americans choose a successor to Bush in early November.
Reporting by Andrew Gray