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McCain to Back Iraq Surge Only If `Sufficient and Sustained'
January 5, 2007

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Senator John McCain, a longtime advocate of increased U.S. forces in Iraq, said he would support a troop "surge" into Baghdad only if it is "sufficient and sustained."

McCain said he would judge any surge proposal based on the assessments of people such as retired Army General Jack Keane, who has called for at least 30,000 additional troops. "If it's not sufficient in the view of" experts such as Keane, "then I cannot support it," he said in an interview on "Political Capital with Al Hunt" airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television.

The new troops should be used primarily to hold areas of the capital that have been cleared of insurgents and sectarian militias until Iraqi security forces are strong enough to take over, said McCain, 70, an Arizona Republican.

"The mission isn't different; it's just having sufficient number of troops to go in," McCain said. "The strategy is clear, hold and build. The problem is we've never had enough troops over there to hold."

McCain said he didn't know how long an augmented U.S. force would have to remain in Iraq, while cautioning that setting a fixed timetable for departure would be a strategic mistake.

President George W. Bush is considering a temporary increase, or "surge," in the level of U.S. forces in Iraq as part of a broad policy review that will culminate in a speech to the nation next week.

Letter to Bush

The surge proposal is controversial. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, sent a letter to Bush today opposing additional troops as counterproductive.

For lawmakers such as McCain, who have long advocated a buildup for forces, the main question seems to be whether Bush will order a large enough increase to make a difference. "It has to be sufficient and sustained," McCain said.

Earlier in the day, during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, McCain outlined what he viewed as the minimum levels necessary to make a surge work: three to five additional brigades in Baghdad and one brigade in Anbar Province in western Iraq, a Sunni insurgent stronghold.

That would amount to between 18,000 and 27,000 soldiers, because an Army brigade consists of about 4,500 soldiers.

`Sense of Disillusionment'

In the Bloomberg interview, McCain said some top military officers have opposed a surge for two reasons: "a sense of disillusionment" over past U.S. failures in Iraq and a "bureaucratic" concern that the Army and National Guard were over-stressed.

McCain acknowledged that an over-stressed military was a legitimate worry -- "but not as much as a defeated Army worries me."

Asked whether Americans should be asked to make greater sacrifices for the war effort, McCain said he would "ask some more Americans to serve as well as support" the effort. He said he would not support a tax increase to help pay for the war.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ken Fireman in Washington at kfireman1@bloomberg.net
Last Updated: January 5, 2007 18:25 EST

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