Diwaniyah, Iraq — The top U.S. commander in Iraq acknowledged Thursday that the U.S. Army was stretched but insisted forces here were capable of accomplishing their mission and any recommendation to reduce troops further would be dictated by the situation on the battlefield.
U.S. officials said Gen. George Casey was speaking about the Army in general and not specifically about the 136,000-strong force in Iraq. However, his comments are likely to fuel a debate inside the U.S. government over whether the United States can sustain the fight long enough to break the back of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.
"The forces are stretched ... and I don't think there's any question of that," Casey said. "But the Army has been for the last several years going through a modernization strategy that will produce more units and more ready units."
Casey said he had discussed manpower strains with Gen. Peter Schoomaker on Wednesday and that the Army chief of staff thinks he can sustain missions around the world. Casey was adamant that the troops in Iraq were getting the job done.
"So, yep, folks are stretched here but they certainly accomplish their mission, and the forces that you've seen on the ground are absolutely magnificent," Casey said.
In Washington, President Bush brushed aside talk that the United States could not prevail in Iraq.
"If the question is whether or not we can win victory in Iraq, our commanders will have the troops necessary to do that. If the question is, 'Can we help keep the peace in a place like the Far East?' Absolutely," Bush said.
"And let me use the Far East as an example of what I'm talking about," the president said. "There were some 30,000 on the South Korean peninsula. As you might remember, we reduced the amount of manpower and replaced it with technology."
Meanwhile, the U.S. command announced that two more American soldiers died Wednesday - one in a bombing south of Baghdad and a second of wounds suffered in a rocket attack in Ramadi. At least 2,238 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.
At least 11 Iraqis were killed Thursday in attacks across the country, police said.