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Navy to increase numbers inside Iraq

Move aimed at easing pressure on stretched Army forces

From Mike Mount
CNN

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Navy will try to lift some of the burden off U.S. Army troops in Iraq this year by increasing the number of sailors inside that country and taking on duties soldiers have been doing, according to the Navy's top sailor.

The move is designed to ease the pressure on the stressed and stretched Army in Iraq, which has soldiers doing everything from combat, medical and security duties to countless support operations.

In a briefing to Pentagon reporters Tuesday, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the Chief of Naval Operations, said the Navy will start playing a bigger role in Iraq by adding to the 4,000 sailors already operating in the country.

About 138,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq; the Army makes up about 99,000.

Mullen would not say how many sailors he is expecting to put into Iraq or when they will start filling the various duties. He did say the number of sailors would be less than 12,000.

The additional sailors will take on existing roles in the combat arena as medical corpsmen and in special operations roles, with more SEAL teams in some cases, he said.

Other duties will include security roles, with some 500 sailors expected to take over operations at a prison inside the country, Mullen said. He would not say which facility the sailors would take over.

While not giving specifics, Mullen said sailors with expertise in disposing of explosive ordnance will also be brought in. Such teams are used in disposing of the countless weapons caches found in the country as well as assisting in roadside bomb removal.

The increase in sailors in Iraq comes as the Army struggles with rotating troops multiple times into the country, trying to give soldiers a break back in their home bases before deploying again to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Air Force airmen are already heavily used in convoy security and other security and logistical roles on the ground in Iraq. The Air Force took more of that role over so Army commanders could use soldiers in needed combat roles.

The Navy has some 10,000 sailors in the southwest Asia region, Mullen said, including the 4,000 already in Iraq.

In all, the Army has about 130,000 soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, according to Army officials.

Also Tuesday, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Guard and Reserves will play a decreased role in the next year.

"When we first went into combat, we had about 40 percent of the total force was Guard and Reserve," he said. "It is 30 percent now."

"The force that is deploying over the next year, from March of this year to March of next year, will be about 19 percent Guard and Reserve," he said. "So the size of the force is coming down, and the need for contribution from the Guard and Reserve is coming down." (Full story)

A Pentagon-commissioned study last month warned that the Army needs more troops for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disputed the study, saying the service was nowhere close to its breaking point.

The study by Andrew Krepinevich, a military analyst and former Army officer, found that the Army's manpower needs for those conflicts "clearly exceed those available for the mission."

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