By Jim Garamone
December 23, 2005
Rumsfeld announced before a cheering group of Marines that the United States will drop from 17 to 15 brigades in the coming year. The change will drop the number of Americans in the country under the 138,000-level baseline, officials said.
The decision reflects the proper balance between coalition and Iraqi forces, the secretary said. The coalition footprint must be large enough to help maintain security and allow the Iraq forces to train up, Rumsfeld explained, yet not so large as to be intrusive or to antagonize the Iraqi people. The force also must not be so large as to take initiative from the Iraqi security forces, he said.
Rumsfeld said President Bush approved the troop reduction in consultation with coalition allies and Iraqi officials. "The size and composition of U.S. forces, of course, will continue to fluctuate as commanders continue to shift focus to emphasize training and supporting the Iraqi security forces," Rumsfeld said.
In other words, U.S. force size and composition will remain situation-dependent, officials traveling with the secretary said. If the situation warrants, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, may recommend further reductions.
The number of American forces that will train Iraqi forces and help them develop intelligence and logistics capabilities will increase, Rumsfeld said. Multinational Force Iraq officials said much of the training will shift to the Iraqi police. The public order and special police units under the Interior Ministry are rated well, but the local Iraqi police are far below the standard they need to meet, officials said.
The secretary said he is not viewing the situation in Iraq through rose-colored glasses. He said many challenges lie ahead on the military, political and economic fronts. "Violence in Iraq, unfortunately, will likely continue to ebb and flow as terrorists and others try to block Iraq's path to democracy - the path now clearly chosen by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary thanked the Marines, sailors and airmen based at this dusty city in Anbar province. He charted the progress the city - once an insurgent stronghold - has made. In the Dec. 15 election, Fallujah had some of the highest voter turnout rates in Iraq, he said. "Fallujah is a place where the old adage about the U.S. Marines certainly fits: 'No better friend, no worse enemy,'" he said. "I congratulate you for what you are accomplishing here; it's important."
The secretary said repression held Iraq together under Saddam Hussein. "The Iraqi people now have written a constitution and ratified a constitution that is going to substitute for that repression," he said.
The secretary thanked the servicemembers and their families for their sacrifices in Iraq. He told them the American people are proud of what they have accomplished and eager for their return.
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