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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.

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Wednesday, July 9

Number of troops in Iraq expected to remain steady

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - The U.S. force size in Iraq likely will remain at about 145,000 for ``the foreseeable future,'' possibly scaled back only by several thousand as foreign troops rotate in this summer, the war's top two commanders said Wednesday.

For all its lack of specificity, the assessment was still one of the most precise descriptions to date of the U.S. military plan for postwar Iraq, where U.S. troops are getting killed at a rate of almost one a day in either hit-and-run raids or accidents.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and recently retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the military commander in Iraq, told a Senate panel that NATO is being consulted on possibly contributing troops. But they said U.S. forces would remain in Iraq in large numbers until Iraqis can police themselves and begin to install a stable government.

That's "what we feel the (troop) footprint needs to look like for the foreseeable future,'' Franks said.

As recently as late April, as the war was winding down after the capture of Baghdad, war planners talked about reducing the U.S. military presence in Iraq to less than two divisions - roughly half the peak combat force. That plan is no longer being discussed. But prior to Wednesday, it had not been replaced, at least publicly, with anything as specific.

The Bush administration has recently been pressured to provide more details on its plans for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq with some senators imploring President Bush to address the American people with specifics.

"The president needs to level with the American people about this,'' Sen. Joseph Biden, leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said following a recent trip to Iraq.

The official administration assessment of what's needed in Iraq could change sometime in July when Franks' successor, Gen. John Abizaid, makes his determination of the forces he'll need.

During his confirmation hearing, Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thought the current U.S. troop strength was adequate to do the job there.

Talk of a possible NATO troop contribution comes as some lawmakers and defense experts contend the nearly daily attacks against U.S. troops and the relentless sabotage of Iraq's infrastructure warrant adding more forces. Ambush-style raids have claimed 29 U.S. troops since May 1 when Bush declared major hostilities over.

Rumsfeld was questioned vigorously by mostly Democratic senators on the status of a potentially significant NATO deployment to Iraq. Some lawmakers have complained that Rumsfeld has been reluctant to share authority there, especially with France and Germany, which both opposed the war.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., complained that the Pentagon's apparent reluctance to include NATO in Iraq is delaying the return of U.S. troops.

"I'm concerned we have the world's best trained troops serving as a police force in a shooting gallery,'' he said.

Rumsfeld replied, "We certainly want assistance from NATO and NATO countries. I know discussions are going forward. NATO has seized the issue and is discussing it.''