Wesley Clark, the former Nato commander who led the 1999 war in Kosovo, is urging President George Bush not to send more troops to Iraq, saying the "surge" in forces being considered by the White House would be too little, too late and could only deepen the hole that the United States and its allies have dug themselves.
Writing exclusively in The Independent on Sunday, General Clark said the time for a military solution was long past, that US troops lack the skills and the political legitimacy to pacify the conflict-ridden regions, and that the only way forward was a political initiative encompassing the entire region.
"We've never had enough troops in Iraq," writes General Clark, who was the Supreme Allied Commander of Nato forces from 1997-2000. "In Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of two million. For Iraq, that ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops so adding 20,000 now is too little, too late."
"What the surge would do is put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut US forces' morale, and risk further alienation of elements of the Iraqi populace," he added.
General Clark's words come just days before a speech by Mr Bush, scheduled for Wednesday, in which he is expected to outline a new strategy. The word "surge" suggests a short, sharp injection of overwhelming military force, but even proponents of an increased troop presence say the forces would need to stay at least into 2008.
Supporters such as Senator John McCain, widely touted as the Republicans' hottest prospect to succeed President Bush, also worry that sending too few troops would be worse than sending none at all.
The Democrats who have just taken over the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as the majority of American voters, believe the time has come to plan for a phased redeployment and withdrawal. "We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq," the new Democratic leaders in the House and Senate wrote to President Bush on Friday. "Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake."
General Clark, who ran for the White House on a Democratic ticket in 2004, adds military authority to that point of view. "US troops lack the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to assure that areas cleared can be 'held', or even that they are fully 'cleared'," he writes. "The key would be more Iraqi troops, but they aren't available in the numbers required."
Mr Bush says he is still making up his mind about the new strategy. Meanwhile, he has undertaken a major housecleaning of key political and military advisers, purging those opposed to increasing troop levels, and beefing up his coterie of personal advisers in anticipation of congressional investigations into the justification and conduct of the war.
Last week, he replaced his senior commander in Iraq, General George Casey, and his senior commander in the Middle East region, General John Abizaid.
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