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American Forces Press Service

Elections, Security Will Determine Size of Force in Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2005 The December elections will mark another political milestone on Iraq's journey toward democracy. How the elections unfold, and how peaceful they are will help commanders determine the size of the American force in the country, officials said during a Pentagon news conference today.

Iraqi security forces are shouldering more of the security burden, said Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the Joint Staff. "Iraqi security forces continue to grow in capability and confidence," he said.

The Iraqi army and police have more than 210,000 members trained and equipped. This breaks into 90 battalions. "One division headquarters, four brigades and 24 battalions actually own battlespace (in Iraq)," Conway said.

And they are conducting operations. In October, Iraqi security forces conducted 35 percent of the operations in the country, he said.

Coalition forces will continue to work with the Iraqis. There are around 160,000 Americans in Iraq, and that is the baseline figure officials expect to see in the country through the Dec. 15 election.

"If the election goes as well as previous elections have - and we have every reason to believe that it will - then ... probably in the wake of that I think we will see the commanders ... reach decision points on future forces in Iraq," Conway said.

He said that within a month - depending on logistics and transportation - American forces should hit the "steady state" number of around 138,000.

But even this is event-driven, officials said: The reality on the ground will determine the number of Americans troops in Iraq. If the Iraqis can forge ahead and take an increasing share of the security burden, then there will be a need for fewer American troops.

"Two principles apply: First it will always be conditions-based - meaning what is happening on the ground," Conway said. "And secondly, the president has said it, 'When the Iraqis are able to stand up, then we will be able to stand down.'"

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