Cut and run or stay the course? The debate among American generals

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The Independent Online

America's generals are at war, and not just with al-Qai'da and the resistance in Iraq. Now they are fighting among themselves about the best way forward in the ever-deepening tragedy of Iraq.

A virtual civil war has erupted as senior US generals disagree in public about whether to cut and run or stay the course. On the airwaves, the internet and in newspapers the argument is raging with commanders in the field coming to the point of insubordination with Pentagon generals.

Senator John Warner of Virginia, an influential Republican on military affairs who has just returned from a trip to Iraq, tried to calm the row yesterday. He announced that the White House would try ironing out the differences among the top brass over the number of troops to be kept in Iraq into next year.

He said the discussions would include the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus and focus on strains on the US military by the continued deployment of more than 160,000 troops there.

He said two questions due to be addressed were how the large deployment was impacting America's all-volunteer military and whether US ground forces could confront potential troubles elsewhere. Senator Warner told NBC's Meet the Press: "Clearly, we have a problem and we'd better solve it. I have learnt, the Department of Defence and our field commanders in Iraq ... are going to sit down and communicate with the White House team and reconcile such difference of views and approaches as they have. The team in Iraq wanted to stay there with the full force as long as they can, obviously. The team back home are looking at the broader picture."

The senator called on President George Bush last week to begin withdrawing US troops and press the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into taking steps toward political reconciliation. A senior US commander in Iraq, Maj- Gen Rick Lynch, on Saturday publicly challenged Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the highest ranking soldier in the US, who is reportedly planning to advise President Bush to cut combat troops in Iraq during 2008 to below 100,000.

Maj-Gen Lynch, who commands 15,000 US and 7,000 Iraqi troops guarding the southern approaches to Baghdad, said a reduction in forces would be "a major step backwards". He said until the Iraqi army was ready to take over "in my battlespace ... I need the forces".