'Out of touch' Bush wants to boost size of Army

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The Independent US

George Bush says he wants to increase the size of the US military - currently the second largest in the world - to allow America to take on a "long struggle against radicals and extremists".

Speaking at an end-of-year press conference, Mr Bush said he was "inclined to believe" a permanent increase in the size of US forces was necessary. Previously he indicated he wished to boost the Army and Marine Corps.

On the option of sending more troops to Iraq in the short term, he said: "I haven't made up my mind yet about more troops. We're looking at all options, and one of those options, of course, is increasing more troops, but in order to do so there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished."

His comments came as the new US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, met US commanders in Iraq and discussed the possibility of extra troops.

With polls showing that only a third of Americans now support the war and with Republicans still licking their wounds from the midterm election defeat, Mr Bush is under pressure to announce a new strategy for a war that has cost the lives of almost 3,000 US troops, 126 British soldiers and perhaps more than 655,000 Iraqis. He is due to announce plans early in the new year.

Since the publication of the Iraq Study Group's (ISG) report, which recommended a short-term bolstering of Iraqi forces, there has been increasing speculation Mr Bush could order an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq. There is said to be considerable concern about such a plan among his military commanders who have raised doubts about the likely impact of an increase.

Additionally, Mr Bush's critics have seized on such a plan as more evidence that the President is out of touch with both the reality in Iraq and the mood of the country. "Bush does not seem to have understood the message of mid-term elections," said Andrew Burgin, spokesman of the Stop the War Coalition. "It's a fantasy to believe that the American people will agree to increased numbers of American troops being killed in Iraq .It's the same with [Tony] Blair and people like Margaret Beckett. The whole political class appears to be out of touch with how this war started, what is happening in Iraq now and what the future holds."

Mr Bush insisted that the US would "win" in Iraq, shifting from his position the previous day when he had said in a newspaper interview that America was neither winning or losing. He said his earlier comments were meant to reflect "that we were going to win, I believe that... My comments yesterday reflected the fact that we're not succeeding nearly as fast as I had wanted."

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military studies group, said there was no certainty that boosting troops numbers would result in success. "It's called war because you don't know what is going to happen and the enemy has some input," he said.

The world's largest armies

* People's Republic of China: 2,225,000 troops

* United States: 1,426,713

* India: 1,325,000

* North Korea: 1,106,000

* Russia: 1,037,000

* South Korea: 687,000

* Pakistan: 619,000

* Turkey: 514,850

* Vietnam: 484,000

* Egypt: 450,000