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US Military Shifts Troops Into Advisory Positions Within Iraq

By Thom Shanker
and Edward Wong
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

American commanders in Iraq already are shifting thousands of combat troops into advisory positions with Iraqi Army and police units, especially in the capital, in their latest attempt to bring sectarian violence under control.

Changes in troop assignments over just the past three weeks included moving about 1,000 American soldiers in Baghdad from traditional combat roles to serve as trainers and advisers to Iraqi units, senior American officers said in interviews here. Commanders say they believe a major influx of American advisers can add spine and muscle to Iraqi units that will help them to move into the lead in improving security.

The troops have been reassigned by commanders, who have not sought additional combat troops to replace them. While the troops have not been through the special program for trainers set up by the military, they are working in their areas of expertise, commanders said.

American generals in Iraq have made the reassignments in recent weeks even though President Bush and his senior national security advisers have not yet made a formal decision about whether to expand the American contingent sent to Iraq specifically to serve on military training teams.

Before the transfers began, between 4,000 and 5,000 troops had been assigned to about 400 training teams.

Increasing the number of American trainers for the Iraqi military and the police is among the recommendations expected on Wednesday from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which Bush has said he wishes to review before announcing a future course in Iraq.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, told Congress last month that he envisioned doubling the number of American trainers, but senior military officers now say they are drawing up plans that would at least triple the number of troops assigned to training.

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, which assumed control of Baghdad in the middle of November, pulled troops from his own force for those assignments without requesting replacements to make up for those joining Iraqi units, officers here said.