Marines came home to California on Friday, part of the normal troop rotation that keeps overall American forces in Iraq at 135,000.
But, reports CBS News Correspondent David Martin, Pentagon officials say a major rotation of troops scheduled for January has been designed to make it possible to increase that number to 150,000, in time for the Iraqi elections.
No decision has been made yet, but if the units the incoming troops are scheduled to replace have their tours of duty extended, the U.S. will have three additional combat brigades – about 15,000 troops – on hand during the Iraqi elections.
Pentagon officials say the potential for a temporary increase in combat power is one of the reasons both the U.S. and Iraq's prime minister are insisting elections be held in January.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants the elections to be on time even if they can't be held in parts of the country controlled by insurgents.
That would raise questions about the legitimacy of the results, and on Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage contradicted Rumsfeld, telling a House committee all Iraqis must have the chance to vote.
"I think we're going to have these elections in all parts of the country," Armitage said.
Gen. John Abizaid, the American commander responsible for insuring the elections are both on time and legitimate, has already said he needs more troops but wants them to be Iraqis, equipped and trained by the U.S.
Last April, after several Iraqi units performed poorly in combat, the U.S. increased its troop strength from 115,000 to the current 135,000. Now, with the possibility of increasing the number of U.S. troops to 150,000 for the elections, one trend is clear – and it's not encouraging.
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.