Gen. Tommy Franks said Wednesday that violence and uncertainty in Iraq make it unlikely that troop levels will be reduced "for the foreseeable future," and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld nearly doubled the estimated military costs there to $3.9-billion a month.
"We have about 145,000 troops in there right now," Franks told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said he had talked to "commanders at every level inside Iraq," and found that the size and structure of those forces were appropriate for the current situation.
Rumsfeld has never laid out a timetable for bringing U.S. troops home, and has repeatedly pledged that the forces would stay as long as required, but no longer. Even so, Wednesday's acknowledgment of the scope of the long-term military commitment to Iraq was the strongest indication to date that the reconstruction effort requires the continued deployment of large numbers of troops to Iraq _ and that the undertaking carries a hefty price tag.
Under intense questioning from Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Rumsfeld or his aides telephoned Pentagon financial officers during a break and reported back to the committee that cost estimates for the Iraq campaign have reached $3.9-billion per month, on average from this January through September.
A Pentagon official said that the $3.9-billion figure is the estimated cost to maintain the current force level in Iraq, which includes expenses for military operations, including fuel, transportation, food, ordnance and personnel, but not reconstruction costs.
The $3.9-billion figure is almost double the $2-billion per month estimate issued by administration officials in April. In addition, the cost of operations in Afghanistan is now $900-million to $950-million monthly, Rumsfeld said.
During a grueling four-hour hearing, committee members alternately complimented the military's war plan and expressed support for rebuilding Iraq but criticized the Pentagon's planning for postwar stabilization.
In particular, Rumsfeld was pressed to detail efforts to reach out to allies _ including those such as France and Germany that opposed the war _ for contributions of troops to replace battle-weary Americans.
Franks, who stepped down this week from the top job at Central Command, gave no indication that commanders are requesting more troops to combat guerrilla-style attacks and looting. When pressed to predict how long a force comparable to the current deployment would be needed in Iraq, he said, "It is for the foreseeable future."
Moments later, Rumsfeld sought to erase the impression that those comments meant that the U.S. commitment could not shrink more rapidly. "The numbers of U.S. forces could change, while the footprint stayed the same, in the event that we have greater success in bringing in additional coalition forces, in the event we are able to accelerate the Iraqi army," he said.
With U.S. forces suffering almost daily attacks in Iraq, that statement did not satisfy Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who challenged Rumsfeld by saying, "We have the world's best-trained soldiers serving as policemen in what seems to be a shooting gallery." Kennedy said, "The lack of a coherent plan is hindering our efforts at internationalization and aggravating the strain on our troops."
Rumsfeld said 142,000 military personnel already have been sent back to their home bases, although most of those serve in the Air Force and Navy, leaving the burden in Iraq to U.S. ground forces. And he announced the withdrawal of one high-profile unit from the war zone, saying that all three brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division, which spearheaded the attack on Baghdad, will be out of Iraq by September.
In sketching how Iraqis will help stabilize their nation, Franks said that 35,000 Iraqi police officers have been hired and that plans call for training a new Iraqi army of 12,000 within 12 months and 40,000 within three years.
As recently as early May, senior allied officials in Baghdad said the Bush administration had hoped to shrink the U.S. military presence in Iraq to two divisions, about 30,000 to 40,000 troops, with a third multinational division.
Answering complaints that U.S. unilateralism had alienated its allies, Rumsfeld and Franks said that 19 nations now have forces supporting the Iraq effort, that 19 others have promised troops and that discussions are under way with 11 more. Allied forces already in Iraq, and those committed, total 30,000, they said.
Asked by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the committee, if he would support having France and Germany take part in the postwar stability force, Rumsfeld said he would.
"We have reached out to NATO," Rumsfeld said. "Our goal is to get a large number of international forces from a lot of countries, including those two."
But Rumsfeld cautioned: "It would be incorrect to say that we expect that international forces will replace all of U.S. forces. We don't anticipate that. We're going to have to replace U.S. forces with U.S. forces, in large measure, and we understand that."
Despite repeated questioning, Rumsfeld refused to issue a concrete schedule for withdrawing U.S. forces.
"Nobody knows the answer to that question, how long it will take," he said. "It will take some time." But he said that "when it's done, it's going to have been darn well worth having done."
Senators from both parties _ James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Jack Reed, D-R.I. _ pressed Rumsfeld on whether the Pentagon should consider increasing the number of people in uniform to handle growing global missions.
"It seems to me that we have to be prepared to increase our Army, the number of brigades in our Army, or to activate National Guard divisions, and we have to make that decision soon," Reed said. Rumsfeld said there were no current plans to expand the military.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked Rumsfeld about the threat from Iran, and Rumsfeld told the committee that he had received reports that Iran had relocated some border posts a few kilometers into Iraqi territory, and he cautioned the government in Tehran against such adventurism.