Call us cynical, but we've long suspected that the White House would announce some modest reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq just in time for the November elections. But if Gen. John Abizaid is to be believed, conditions on the ground have made that sort of October surprise impossible.
In what the Associated Press is calling "one of the gloomiest assessments yet of how quickly American forces can be brought home," Abizaid says the United States will need to maintain or even increase its force level in Iraq through next spring.
There are approximately 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today. Back around the beginning of the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could be heard to predict that U.S. troop levels could be reduced to the 30,000 range by the end of 2003. When that didn't happen, military officials floated the idea that "fairly substantial reductions" in troop levels could come in 2006. Indeed, as late as last November, Pentagon planners were suggesting that troop levels could drop to under 100,000 by the end of this year.
Instead, the numbers have gone the other way. As the AP notes, there are currently about 20,000 more U.S. troops in Iraq than there were in late June. Abizaid says that commanders will ask for more "if the military situation on the ground requires that."