ANCHORENA PARK, Uruguay – President Bush approved 8,200 more U.S. troops for Iraq and Afghanistan on top of reinforcements already ordered to those two countries, the White House said Saturday, a move that comes amid a fiery debate in Washington over the Iraq war.
The president agreed to send 4,700 troops to Iraq in addition to the 21,500 he ordered to go in January, mainly to provide support for those combat forces and to handle more anticipated Iraqi prisoners. He also decided to send a 3,500-member brigade to Afghanistan to accelerate training of local forces, doubling his previous troop increase to fight a resurgent Taliban.
Although officials had foreshadowed the additional forces for Iraq in recent days, the latest troop increase in Afghanistan had not been known and will bring U.S. forces there to an all-time high.
The deployments underscore the challenges facing the United States in both countries and further stretch an already-strained military. In Iraq particularly, the moves could fuel suspicions that a troop increase initially described as a temporary “surge” may grow larger and last longer than predicted.
Bush did not comment on his decision during the second day of a six-day Latin America tour. But aides released a letter he signed Friday night aboard Air Force One as he flew to Uruguay from Brazil, asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for $3.2 billion in emergency funding to pay for the additional units. He proposed cuts in other spending to offset the cost.
“This revised request would better align resources based on the assessment of military commanders to achieve the goal of establishing Iraq and Afghanistan as democratic and secure nations that are free of terrorism,” Bush said in the letter.
The president’s decision came as congressional Democrats are struggling to find a way to reverse direction in Iraq. Bush aides said last week that the president would veto a House Democratic spending plan that would require him to certify that the Iraqi government has met certain benchmarks by certain dates to keep U.S. forces in the country. The plan would require, under any circumstance, that troop withdrawals begin March 1, 2008, and that remaining troops be out of combat roles by Aug. 31, 2008.