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Posted: 9/17/2004 12:22:21 PM EDT
Issue Date: September 20, 2004

Pentagon looks to 4th Iraq rotation
Troop levels expected to remain steady

By Jason Sherman
Times staff writer

With the third major wave of U.S. forces poised to deploy to Iraq this fall, Pentagon planners recently began looking ahead to who will deploy after them — as soon as next summer.

Representatives from all the services are laying the groundwork for what the Defense Department now calls OIF/OEF 05-07.

This nomenclature marks a departure from the previous rotation numbering system for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were not in synch because Operation Enduring Freedom began 18 months before Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“What they tried to do was make it simpler by going to the year of start and the year of exit from theater for the force,” said one Pentagon planner who spoke on condition that he not be identified.

This planning is looking at forces that will begin rotating into Iraq in late 2005 and eventually will return by early 2007.

The forces will stagger their deployments and redeployments. The Army plans for its troops to spend 12 months in theater. The Marine Corps’ maneuver elements go for seven months and its headquarter elements stay for a year, while Air Force deployments last four months.

The Pentagon has between 135,000 and 140,000 personnel in Iraq and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, according to officials.

Senior military leaders say they expect these force levels to remain steady for the foreseeable future.

“The rotation that’s going over now is going to be there for what may be the decisive phase of the war,” said Robert Killebrew, a retired Army infantry officer who speaks and writes on defense issues.

Iraqi elections are scheduled for January, and a new government is to be in place by next summer.

Many analysts believe the insurgency now rocking Iraq is aimed in part at blocking the establishment of a viable, freely elected secular government.

“There is a great possibility of the outbreak of a more serious war sometime this winter or next spring, the purpose of which will be to deny the legitimacy of a democratically elected government,” Killebrew said. “Our troops and the Iraqi troops are going to be deeply involved in either preventing that insurgency or crushing it in the name of an independent, secure Iraq.”

Asked whether the Pentagon was planning to boost force levels in Iraq around January, the Defense Department planner offered no details but said preparations are underway.

“There certainly is planning for all types of unforeseen circumstances,” he said. “With regard to the election period, prudent military planning would require us to have the capability to respond to unforeseen circumstances. That may be increased violence, mass casualties [or] disaster relief.”

The aim of the planning effort for OIF/OEF 05-07 is to map out what sort of force is needed after next summer, a period that many believe will be the aftermath of increased hostilities.

“And the aftermath will likely be an attempt to go to a lower-grade insurgency, much like what we were fighting in Iraq now until the recent surge in violence,” Killebrew said. “Certainly, for this coming year, we cannot afford to reduce troop levels. No matter how good the Iraqi army becomes, troop levels can’t be reduced until next summer. After that, it’s a guess.”
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