Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gates: Timetable for Troop Boost Unclear

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats who control Congress pounced on President Bush's plan to increase troops in Iraq on Thursday as a bad mistake that ignores public sentiment and the advice of top generals. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he could not say how long the buildup would last.

"In choosing to escalate the war, the president virtually stands alone," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a Senate speech. However, he promised to give the plan careful consideration.

Ahead of testimony on Capitol Hill, Gates told a White House briefing it remains unclear how long the "temporary" military buildup ordered by Bush will last.

But he said that the United States should know pretty soon whether Iraqis were living up to their part of the deal and increasing their own forces.

In appearances on Capitol Hill, at news briefings and on morning television programs, administration officials worked to persuade a skeptical Democratic-led Congress to accept Bush's troop buildup as the last best chance for reversing Iraq's slide.

"All Americans know that the stakes in Iraq are enormous, and we all share the belief that the situation is currently unacceptable. On this we are united," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters.

Bush's new strategy, announced Wednesday in a prime-time address to the nation, increases U.S. forces in Iraq by 21,500 and demands greater cooperation from the Iraqi government.

Asked how long that buildup might last, Gates told the briefing, "It's viewed as a temporary surge, but I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be."

Democrats voiced deep skepticism over the buildup.

Reid said that Bush ignored the results of November's midterm elections that ended 12 years of GOP control of Congress, ignored the advice of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and "a significant number of top generals."
"Putting more U.S. combat forces in the middle of a civil war is a mistake," Reid said.

"We're not going to baby sit a civil war," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told NBC's

"Today" Show. He said the Democratic-controlled Congress would not undercut troops already in Iraq but would explore ways to restrict the president from expanding the mission.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told CBS'"The Early Show" that since the new Democratic-led Congress convened last week, "questions are now being asked of this administration that haven't been asked for almost four years."

Democratic options were limited, however. Party leaders have mulled a resolution of disapproval, but that would be nonbinding, and there also has been talk of attaching a host of conditions to approval of a spending bill to cover the costs of the buildup.

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