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Bush: 'We do need to increase our troops'

Story Highlights

• NEW: Bush did not say if increase would affect troop levels in Iraq
• NEW: Bush told Washington Post increase is for general war on terror
• NEW: President considering 30,000 - 40,000 more short-term troops in Iraq
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush asked his new secretary of defense to draw up plans to increase the overall size of the Army and the Marines, according to an interview with the president published Tuesday in the Washington Post.

"I'm inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops -- the Army, the Marines," Bush said.

"And I talked about this to Secretary Gates and he is going to spend some time talking to the folks in the building, come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea." (Watch debate on troop level Video)

The interview also marked the first time Bush acknowledged that U.S. forces were not winning the war.

"You know, I think an interesting construct that General Pace uses is, 'We're not winning, we're not losing,' " he told the paper, referring to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"There's been some very positive developments. And you take a step back and look at progress in Iraq, you say, well, it's amazing -- constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, which is a remarkable development in itself."

Bush will hold a news conference Wednesday morning at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building to discuss troop levels and the status of his Iraq plans, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Gates, meanwhile, arrived in Iraq Wednesday -- just two days into his new job -- to gain advice from military commanders on the ground. (Full story)

Senior administration officials said that the timing of Bush's comments to the Post corresponds with Washington's oncoming budget season and that the president intends for plans of a troop increase to be part of the fiscal 2008 budget. (War spending to approach record)

But the comments also come amid increasing warnings from officials and experts that the U.S. military is stretched too thin to cope with the stresses of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is an accurate reflection that this ideological war we're in is going to last for a while, and that we're going to need a military that's capable of being able to sustain our efforts and to help us achieve peace," Bush told the Post.

The latest CNN poll, released on Monday, found that support for the president's handling of Iraq has sunk to an all-time low, from 34 percent in mid-October to 28 percent. A record 70 percent said they disapproved of his war management. (Details)

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to retire and will leave his post in March. He had opposed calls to increase troop levels, arguing it would increase Iraqi dependence on Americans, the paper reported.

Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that the military is "bleeding." (Watch concern over military Video)

"The stretching and the straining of the troops is serious," he said. " ... I think we have to put on a tourniquet and strengthen the forces. I think that will be a major part of our early work."

Bush disagreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that the U.S. military was "broken."

Bush reacted to Powell's statement, saying, "I've heard the word, 'stressed,' ... We need to reset our military. There's no question the military has been used a lot.

"And the fundamental question is, will Republicans and Democrats be able to work with the administration to assure our military and the American people that we will position our military so that it is ready and able to stay engaged in a long war?"

In addition to the overall troop strength, the president is considering whether to send as many as 30,000 or 40,000 additional troops into Iraq on a short-term basis to secure the Baghdad area -- a plan supported by GOP presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

McCain supports an increase in overall troop size.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, said on CNN's "The Situation Room" that the United States has already lost the Iraq war.

"Militarily we have lost -- there is no question about it, we cannot win this militarily," the lawmaker said.

Murtha, who has advocated withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, also said the U.S. has missed its opportunity to stabilize the war-torn country.

"There is no way the United States can solve this problem," Murtha said. "We have gotten so far out and we have missed our opportunity, if we ever had an opportunity early on, to stabilize Iraq. Since we didn't do it then, it cannot be done now."

The congressman also sharply criticized the recommendation of sending more troops to Iraq.

"They don't have an achievable mission -- a defined mission which they can point to," he said. "What's the point in sending another 40,000 troops?"

Some military officials -- reportedly including the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- have balked at the idea of sending more troops temporarily, concerned that the influx of American forces could increase attacks by insurgents.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Tuesday that the "notion" of a "feud between the president and the Joint Chiefs would be wrong."

"They work together," he said. "The president has a great deal of respect for the chain of command -- in fact, the chain of command, starting with the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs, the combatant commanders, all the way down to the people who are doing the fighting on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and that are serving the nation in uniform."

U.S. Marine recruits go through processing at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.



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