U.S. Troop Levels in Iraq to Outpace Afghanistan Through Most of 2010

by Josh Rogin, CQ Staff
June 9, 2009 – 12:26 p.m.

The United States will maintain an average of 100,000 troops in Iraq for fiscal 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testified Tuesday.

The estimate is part of the war funding section of the administration’s fiscal 2010 budget request, as detailed in the written testimony of Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

Between 35,000 and 50,000 troops will remain after August 31, 2010, Mullen wrote, meaning force levels much higher than 100,000 will be present in Iraq for the first half of 2010, in order for Gates’ average to bear out.

Mullen acknowledged that despite a renewed focus on Afghanistan, “our residual footprint in Iraq will remain larger than in Afghanistan well into 2010.

“The drawdown in Iraq is weighted in 2010, with the bulk of the combat brigades coming out after the Iraqi elections,” Mullen wrote.

An average of 68,000 U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan next fiscal year, according to the testimony. The increase reflects the implementation of Obama’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, announced in March. More than 17,000 troops will be deploying there as part of that plan.

The budget also reflects Obama’s decision to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq to only six “advisory and assistance brigades” by August 31, 2010, according to Gates. These are meant to be distinguished from combat brigades, but their makeup and size remain unclear.

The United States has pledged to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, under the bilateral status of forces agreement signed last year.

The administration requested in April $533.8 billion in defense funding for fiscal 2010, along with $130 billion for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama pledged to request regular defense funding and supplemental war funding at the same time and fund the wars through the regular budget process rather than through emergency supplemental requests.
“By presenting this budget together, we hope to give a more accurate picture of the costs of the wars,” Gates wrote.

Among the other items to be found in the war funding section are requests for $74.1 billion for operations and maintenance in Iraq and Afghanistan, $17.6 billion to repair or replace worn out equipment, $10 billion for purchasing and upgrading mine resistant ground vehicles, and $7.5 billion to train and build Afghan security forces.

Defense Would Manage Funds

The fiscal 2010 war funding request also asks for $700 million to boost Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capabilities.

Many lawmakers said such funding should go through the State Department and an effort was made to move that funding in fiscal 2009.

Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed that the Defense Department would be the best place to manage such funds for fiscal 2009, but had pledged to switch that funding back to the State Department in fiscal 2010.

But Gates still thinks the Defense Department should be the destination for the money.

“We are asking for this authority for the unique and urgent circumstances we face in Pakistan — for dealing with a challenge that simultaneously requires military and civilian capabilities,” Gates wrote, adding, “This is a vital element of the president’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.”