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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush to Ask UN to Share Troop Burden in Iraq

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush has agreed to begin negotiations in the UN Security Council to authorize a multinational force for Iraq but has insisted that the troops be placed under U.S. command, according to senior administration officials.

Bush's decision came in a meeting Monday with Secretary of State Colin Powell. While not unexpected, it was a tacit admission that the current U.S.-dominated force is stretched too thin. It also amounts to one of the most significant changes in strategy since the end of major combat in Iraq.

The White House acted just as a new Congressional study showed that the U.S. Army lacks the active-duty troops to keep the current occupation force in Iraq past March without getting help from either other services and reserves or from other nations or without spending tens of billions to vastly expand its size.

One senior official said Bush's national security team envisions withdrawing the majority of U.S. forces now in Iraq within 18 months to two years, and "making this peacekeeping operation look like the kind that are familiar to us," in Kosovo, Bosnia and other places where the UN has taken the major role.

But it is far from clear that France and Germany, which led the opposition to a Security Council resolution authorizing the war, will agree to the terms or the language that Powell plans to circulate, perhaps as early as late this week. India, Turkey and Pakistan have indicated they might contribute troops to a multinational force, but only if it is authorized by a new UN resolution.

Another senior administration official said Bush and Powell discussed ways to persuade the Security Council members to create such a force, and added that Powell "is going to be working with our colleagues and allies to talk about language that can bring maximum, effective resources to bear" in Iraq.

The study, released Monday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said that if the Pentagon sticks to its plan of rotating active-duty troops out of Iraq after a year, it would be able to sustain a force of only 67,000 to 106,000 active duty and reserve Army and Marine forces. A larger force would put at risk the military's operations elsewhere around the globe, the study said.

With Bush concerned about the ramifications of continued daily casualties in Iraq and the possibility that he may need forces elsewhere, perhaps including the Korean Peninsula if the nuclear crisis there worsens, the need to draw more international forces became "very clear in the past few weeks," a senior State Department official said.

Last week, floating what appeared to be a trial balloon, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the United States was considering a multinational force that would be under the UN flag but, he added, an "American would be the UN commander." That was essentially the model for U.S. forces stationed in South Korea after the end of the Korean War, 50 years ago, and it has been repeated elsewhere in the world. Currently there are about 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Kuwait and 21,000 non-U.S. troops, about half of them from Britain.

Military planners have long said the United States will require substantial assistance from other countries and from Iraqis to remain in the country over the long term, and the study underscored that need. It is also the first time a government agency has placed a date on the point when the U.S. military may buckle under the strain of the Iraqi deployment unless it gets significantly more help from other countries.

"When you connect the dots, this report shows we cannot possibly sustain the mission in Iraq at current U.S. active-duty troop strength, even if we do get modestly more allied help," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. "The only hope otherwise is to turn the security mission entirely back to the Iraqis within one to two years, which is unlikely."

The limiting factor for the Pentagon is not necessarily money. Rather, the problem is the Army's need to keep occupying troops fresh using a unit rotation system, where a unit serves in Iraq for six to 12 months and then comes home, replaced by another unit. The report says the Pentagon does not have enough personnel to keep the troops fresh and still conduct operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Korea.

The U.S. military could field a force of up to 106,000 if it breaks with the past and uses Marine Corps units, Army Special Forces groups and National Guard combat units in Iraq, the report says. Such units have generally not been used for peacekeeping, and the budget office said using them would bring the cost of the occupation to $19 billion per year.

Alternatively, the Pentagon could increase the size of the Army to meet its new demands. Recruiting, training and equipping two new Army divisions would require an up-front cost of up to $19 billion and take five years, the report said, and it would cost an extra $9 billion to $10 billion per year to put in place in Iraq. That would bring the total cost of the occupation force up to 129,000 troops and cost up to $29 billion a year, the report said.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a critic of the Iraq war and the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said the report proved the Bush administration failed to inform the nation of the true costs of invading Iraq, and said the United States must get support from NATO and the United Nations to sustain the occupation.