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Sen Byrd Speech - Need Help for US Troops / 09-02-03

Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

September 02, 2003

We Need Relief for American Troops in Iraq

Senator Byrd delivered the following remarks, previewing a report by the Congressional Budget Office that outlines specific costs, in terms of manpower and dollars, required for a long-term occupation of Iraq.

Senators and Representatives are now returning to Washington, D.C., from their sojourns to their home districts. With the turn of a page on a calendar, the dog days of summer draw to a close, and our Nation's Capital city returns to life from its annual slumber. The business of government is set once more to spring into high gear as the oppressive heat of August turns to the cooler days of September.

Many of those who carry out the work of the American people were fortunate to escape the worst days of the oppressive Washington summer. But as policy makers return to their hectic schedules, we must remember that there are many thousands of Americans on the other side of the globe who were not afforded any relief from sweltering temperatures or allowed any bit of relaxation from their life-threatening missions.

There was no summer vacation for the 136,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the 34,000 soldiers in Kuwait, or the 9,600 personnel in Afghanistan. These Americans sweated through all 31 days of August under their Kevlar helmets and heavy bulletproof vests. Many had no opportunity to enjoy the luxury of air conditioning or even a simple glass of ice water, for they were kept on high alert during every waking moment watching for snipers, booby traps, and assassins.

As the cost of our occupation of Iraq continues to grow, it is increasingly apparent to the American people that the White House has gotten the United States more deeply involved in Iraq than the Administration's pre-war rhetoric would ever have led us to believe.

As of Friday, August 29, we have lost 282 Americans during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and nearly 1,400 have been wounded during that time. The news today is of two more soldiers killed in a roadside bomb attack. The number of American lives lost is quickly approaching the total number of Americans killed during 1991's Operation Desert Storm, when 292 troops lost their lives to hostile fire and accidents.

The dangers of Iraq have shown no signs of abating. The August 19 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad claimed the lives of 23 international aid workers, and the August 29 bombing of a mosque in Najaf appears to have killed more than 80 worshipers.

Only a handful of Iraqi leaders who are pictured on the military's most-wanted deck of cards remain at large, but the perpetrators of the attacks seem to be broadening their set of targets. It appears that the violence is not just perpetrated by Iraqis, but that Iraq is becoming a new stage for terrorists to strike at the United States. The top Army officer in charge of ground troops in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, spoke in July describing our occupation forces as a "terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity."

And while the sons and daughters of America continue to patrol the shooting gallery in Iraq, progress toward bringing reinforcements from our friends and allies has proceeded at a miserable pace. For every foreign soldier in Iraq, there are nearly nine American troops. Other countries with sizable militaries, such as France, Germany, and India, have flatly refused to participate in the occupation of Iraq without a U.N.-authorized peacekeeping mission. Turkey, our staunch ally on the northern border of Iraq, has announced that it will delay a vote on sending peacekeepers until some time in October.

Does it really come as a surprise to anyone that many of our allies are reluctant to commit their own troops to the aftermath of a pre-emptive war, considering how the Administration tried to bully them during our headlong rush to war against Iraq? While the White House was furiously trying to twist arms in Berlin, Paris, Ankara, and Moscow to gain acquiescence to a war in Iraq, millions took to the streets to protest the President's policy toward Iraq.

According to polls released by the Pew Research Center on March 18, 2003, the day before the war began, opposition to a war in Iraq was at 69 percent in Germany, 75 percent in France, 86 percent in Turkey, and 87 percent in Russia. Yet the White House scoffed at this opposition and belittled the need to unify the world in confronting Saddam Hussein. Could it be that our troops are now paying the price for the Administration's bullheaded rush to war without the broad and active support of the international community?

But even if more international troops arrive under the Administration's plans, Americans should not be lulled into thinking that the threat to our troops will be over. Pentagon planners are now working to divide the occupation of Iraq among the British, an unidentified foreign force, and U.S. troops.

It appears that this plan will continue to have American troops bear the responsibility of patrolling the "Sunni triangle," where the bulk of the guerrilla attacks have been occurring. Our men and women in uniform will continue to walk through the dangerous back alleys of Baghdad, Tikrit, and Fallujah, facing daily attacks. For so long as U.S. troops continue to carry the overwhelming bulk of the occupation mission in Iraq, our troops will remain overburdened and under fire.

Let there be no doubt, our troops are stretched thin. On June 24, 2003, I requested a study by the Congressional Budget Office on how a protracted mission in Iraq could affect our military readiness. In particular, I asked how many troops our armed forces can devote to a long-term occupation of Iraq, what stresses this might place upon the National Guard and the Reserves, and what costs and risks may be associated with the strain upon our forces.

The results of the CBO study, which will be released tomorrow, is quantified evidence that the long-term occupation is straining our forces close to the breaking point.

According to the advance copy of the CBO report that was delivered to my office today, if we are to rely primarily on the active duty Army to carry out the occupation of Iraq while maintaining our presence in Korea, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and elsewhere, we can only maintain 38,000 to 64,000 soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait over the long term.

Even if the Pentagon takes extraordinary measures, such as depending on large deployments of the National Guard and the Reserves and using Marines as peacekeepers, the CBO report estimates that we could still only sustain 67,000 to 106,000 troops in Iraq for the long term. The annual incremental cost for a continuing deployment of this size, assuming that the security situation becomes stable, could be up to $19 billion per year.

Some have suggested that the strain on our soldiers in Iraq could be relieved by adding two new Army divisions to the existing 10. The CBO report estimates that this option would cost up to $19.4 billion in one-time costs, would add another $9.5 billion to $10.1 billion to the annual defense budget, and would take from three to five years to field those troops.

The CBO report also analyzes how a large commitment of troops to Iraq would affect the ability of our armed forces to respond to a crisis elsewhere in the world, such as a North Korean invasion of South Korea. Not surprisingly, the larger the commitment the U.S. maintains in Iraq, the fewer troops we would have ready to respond to other threats. The statistics contained in the CBO report prompts more questions about the readiness of our military during a sustained occupation of Iraq.

The CBO also reports that our troop levels in Iraq will have to start declining by March 2004 if we hope to preserve readiness in our armed forces. Indeed, the Army has already drafted a plan to start rotating units in and out of Iraq by that time. But this plan also anticipates that foreign troops will arrive to take up the slack in the occupation mission created by a declining number of U.S. troops. So far, however, Administration efforts to line up countries to join in this mission have been unimpressive.

That the White House failed to prepare the American public for the demands of post-war Iraq on our troops is painfully evident.

Now there are rumblings that the Administration may be ready to swallow its pride and seek a new U.N. resolution to encourage foreign participation in the occupation of Iraq. This would be a positive development, one that the Administration should have embraced from the outset.

We have heard grandiose claims of international cooperation from this Administration before. On April 8, 2003, President Bush promised a "vital role" for the U.N. in rebuilding Iraq. When pressed about what he meant, the President responded, "When we say vital role for the United Nations, we mean vital role for the United Nations in all aspects of the issue." Let us hope that reality begins to match rhetoric.

I sincerely hope that the talk of a rapprochement with the U.N. is not more rhetoric or posturing by the Administration. Our sons and daughters cannot be asked to bear the heavy burdens in Iraq essentially alone. The report that will be issued by the Congressional Budget Office tomorrow demonstrates that even our overwhelming military technology cannot offset the toll of maintaining a huge commitment of troops in Iraq for the long haul.

We can no longer afford to deliberate on whether to put a formal request for peacekeepers before NATO and the United Nations Security Council.

Every day frittered away by the Administration is another day that our troops will bear the staggering burden of the dangers of occupation alone.

Every month that goes by without more help from our friends and allies means billions more taxpayer dollars spent on our occupation of Iraq, and most sadly, more grieving American families.

For the sake of the brave men and women who serve our country in uniform on the dangerous streets of Iraq, the Administration should do now what it failed to do before the war. The United States must ask for the support of NATO and the United Nations to share not only the burdens but also the decisions regarding post-war Iraq, and that appeal must be genuine and must be made now.

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