Pentagon's focus shifting gradually from Iraq to Afghanistan: NYT

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Tallil Air Force Base (Iraq), Aug.1 (ANI): The Pentagon's focus has moved from Iraq to Afghanistan even as a string of bombings inside mosques in Baghdad on Friday indicated the prospect of renewed violence.

The shift is evident in the numbers. If the current draw down schedule holds, there will be 50,000 or fewer United States troops in Iraq next year but about 68,000 in Afghanistan.

A New York Times report quoted General Ray Odierno, the top American commander in Iraq, as telling reporters in Baghdad this week that: "They (soldiers) might tell you they'd rather be ighting in Afghanistan."

The next big debate facing the Pentagon and the White House is whether to send even more troops than planned to Afghanistan. A civilian advisory panel has already advised General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top United States commander in Afghanistan, that he should request additional forces.

Since June 30, most United States combat forces have withdrawn to large bases outside the cities and left the Iraqis to lead.

The Pentagon already anticipates spending less next year in Iraq than in Afghanistan, 61 billion dollars compared with 65 billion dollars, the first time that will have happened since before 2003.

So far this year, fewer United States service members have been killed in Iraq than in Afghanistan - 108 compared with 128, according to icasualties.org, which tracks military deaths.

But the change transcends statistics. From training to equipment to career path to the debate in the Pentagon about strategy and force structure, the emphasis has shifted from a conflict that dominated national security well before 2003 to one that will help define President Obama's foreign policy.

There are still some 130,000 American troops in Iraq, more than twice as many as in Afghanistan, but the shift in focus is clear.

At the Pentagon, the top equipment priority this year is buying more than 5,000 all-terrain armored vehicles designed for the rugged landscape of Afghanistan.

At the Tampa, Florida, headquarters of the United States Central Command, which oversees both wars, there are 90 intelligence analysts assigned to Iraq and 130 to Afghanistan.

At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the Marines are offering a new yearlong crash course in Pashto, Dari and Urdu, languages spoken in Afghanistan.

And although there are still hundreds of people at the Pentagon who work on Iraq, nowhere is there anything like the tight corps of 400 top officers and soldiers - many of them veterans of Iraq that General McChrystal has hand-picked specifically for Afghanistan.

To top Pentagon officials, the change is a logical outgrowth of the relative stability in Iraq and the American transition there into an advisory role.

"The solution in Iraq is not military anymore," Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told a group of reporters.

Ambitious young officers want to prove themselves in the offensives this summer in Afghanistan, but others do not mind the relatively less dangerous environment of Iraq, a striking change from the carnage of three years ago.

Military experts warn that the shift in focus may be premature, given the long list of problems that remain in Iraq, particularly the intensifying tensions between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders that United States military officials consider the No. 1 threat to the country's fragile unity. (ANI)

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