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Iraq Transition

Bush meets with troops as Iraq plan debated

Story Highlights

• NEW: Bush tells Fort Benning troops sacrifices lie ahead
• Defense Secretary Gates says military needs 92,000 more troops in next five years
• Gates and Condoleezza Rice promote plan announced Wednesday by Bush
• Bush called for major changes to address "unacceptable" situation in Iraq
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FORT BENNING, Georgia (CNN) -- "There is no doubt in my mind we will prevail" in Iraq, President Bush told troops at Fort Benning on Thursday.

Bush met with the soldiers a day after he announced a new strategy for Iraq that includes more than 20,000 additional troops.

In a speech punctuated by applause, the president thanked the soldiers for their sacrifices and acknowledged that there would be more sacrifices ahead.

"Some units are going to have to deploy earlier than scheduled as a result of the decision I made," he said. "Some will remain deployed longer than originally anticipated."

Before his speech, the president picked up his lunch in a cafeteria line, surrounded by enlisted men and women in camouflage uniforms, and sat at a long table in the crowded mess hall.

After his speech, he was scheduled to meet with some families of troops killed in Iraq.

In Washington, top administration officials promoted the new Iraq strategy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he doesn't know how long an increase in troop levels in Iraq will last.

"It's viewed as a temporary surge, but I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be," Gates said at a news conference, as the Bush administration went to work selling its plan.

"The increase in military forces will be phased in. It will not unfold overnight. There will be no D-Day. It won't look like the Gulf War," Gates said. (Watch Gates explain how plan will work Video)

"The timetable for the introduction of additional U.S. forces will provide ample opportunity early on, and before many of the additional U.S. troops actually arrive in Iraq, to evaluate the progress of this endeavor and whether the Iraqis are fulfilling their commitments to us," he said.

Gates appeared at a news conference in Washington with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

All three were scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill Thursday, while the Pentagon took steps to deploy the first of more than 20,000 additional troops being sent to Iraq. (Troop levels in Iraq)

Gates also announced changes in overall troop strength in response to President Bush's new plan for Iraq.

"I am recommending to [the president] a total increase in the two services of 92,000 soldiers and Marines over the next five years -- 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines. The emphasis will be on increasing combat capability," Gates said.

He said the maximum length of involuntary mobilization for members of the reserves would be reduced to a year, instead of the 16 to 24 months many reservists currently serve.

"Being stretched is part of the equation, but it does not impact the recommendation about how many troops are needed," Pace said.

"We have sufficient capacity inside the U.S. armed forces in order to do this [troop increase]," Pace said.

Rice said the State Department would expand its network of provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, in Iraq.

'Out of the Green Zone, into the field'

"We must ... get our civilians out of the embassy, out of the Green Zone and into the field across Iraq to support promising local leaders and promising local structures," she said. (Watch Rice outline strategy Video)

She announced the appointment of Tim Carney, former ambassador to Haiti, to the new position of coordinator for Iraq transitional assistance.

Testifying later Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice discussed whether Iran and Syria should have a role in solving Iraq's problems.

"I think we need to recognize that if Iran and Syria wish to play a stabilizing role for their own interests, then they will do so. If, on the other hand, they intend to offer a stabilizing role because they believe that in our current situation in Iraq, we are willing to pay a price, that's not diplomacy -- that's extortion," she said. (Watch heckler bring a bit of levity to hearing Video)

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin urged Congress to cut funding for the Iraq war, while the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, threatened to filibuster any Democratic resolution opposing increased troop levels. (Full story)

Bush plan stresses change

Bush called for major changes in U.S. strategy in Iraq Wednesday night, saying, "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me."

"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," Bush said, before outlining his proposed changes and explaining why he believes they will work when previous strategies have failed.

Speaking from the White House, Bush said he will increase American forces by more than 20,000, the vast majority of them coming from "five brigades [that] will be deployed to Baghdad." (Full story)

Other developments

  • Bush's plan got a chilly reception in key European countries Thursday, and many commentators said they do not believe it will succeed. Several allies in Asia, however, lined up behind the strategy, and Britain gave a cautious endorsement. (Full story)
  • Britain said it does not intend to send any more forces to Iraq. Asked on Thursday morning about Britain's plans, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said: "It is not our intention at the present time to send more troops." (Full story)
  • Arab analysts said Thursday the plan will fail to bring peace to Iraq and could aggravate a conflict in which tens of thousands of people have already died. (Full story)
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    Pentagon sources say additional troops will come from these brigades:

    •A division of the 82nd Airborne, Fort Bragg, North Carolina

    •4th Brigade in Fort Riley, Kansas

    •Brigades from Fort Lewis in Washington

    •Fort Stewart and Fort Benning in Georgia


    • Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
    • Interactive: Sectarian divide


    What is your overall reaction to President Bush's revised Iraq plan?
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