LATROBE, Pa. - Most U.S. troops will leave Iraq within a year because the Army is "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth," Rep. John Murtha told a civic group.
Two weeks ago, Murtha created a storm of comment when he called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq now. The Democratic congressman spoke to a group of community and business leaders in Latrobe on Wednesday, the same day President Bush said troops would be withdrawn when they've achieved victory, not under an artificial deadline set by politicians.
Murtha predicted most troops will be out of Iraq within a year.
"I predict he'll make it look like we're staying the course," Murtha said, referring to Bush. "Staying the course is not a policy."
Murtha, 73, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, expressed pessimism about Iraq's stability and said the Iraqis know who the insurgents are, but don't always share that information with U.S. troops. He said a civil war is likely because of ongoing factionalism among Sunni Arabs, and Kurds and Shiites.
He also said he was wrong to vote to support the war.
"I admit I made a mistake when I voted for war," Murtha said. "I'm looking at the future of the United States military."
Murtha, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, said the Pennsylvania National Guard is "stretched so thin" that it won't be able to send fully equipped units to Iraq next year. Murtha predicted it will cost $50 billion to upgrade military equipment nationwide, but says the federal government is already reducing future purchases to save money.
Murtha, who represents a western Pennsylvania district that includes Latrobe, was first elected to Congress in 1974.
Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, spokesman for the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, said "there are some deployment concerns."
Cleaver said some guard units had to leave equipment in Iraq when they returned to the United States, which could cause training problems here.
But Cleaver also said most of the 2,100 Guard troops now deployed with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team can't be sent back to Iraq for a second tour of duty anyway, because of regulations that limit redeployment.