WASHINGTON -- The National Guard and Reserves will play a much smaller role next year in Iraq and Afghanistan, dropping to less than one-fifth of the overall US forces there, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, said yesterday.
In response to repeated questions about the strain on reserve forces on the front lines, Pace, a Marine general, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Guard and Reserves members will make up just 19 percent of the forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year.
Currently, they make up about 30 percent of US forces in those countries, Pace said. That means the planned reduction would lower the reserves' proportion of total US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan by about one-third.
There are now about 138,000 US troops in Iraq and 19,000 more in Afghanistan.
The announcement of a planned reduction in reserves was made as Bush administration officials have been saying they hope to reduce the numbers of US troops in Iraq this year, assuming the Iraqi government and its forces can take a wider role in the war and keep order.
The Bush administration has been under pressure to bring more US troops home.
A study commissioned by the Pentagon said last month that the wear and tear of the US deployment in Iraq was beginning to drain the Army, and questioned how much longer it could continue operating there at full effectiveness.
Reserve forces have made up as much as 40 percent of the US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of Army National Guard soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan peaked at 69,416 in September; most were in Iraq.
General Peter Schoomaker, the highest-ranking Army officer, told the senators that the heavy use of the Guard and Reserve has given the Army time to reorganize and prepare for its regular troops to take on a broader role, beginning in March.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, told the panel that corruption in Iraq could damage efforts to create a democracy there.
He also said it was up to the Iraqis to seize control and take more responsibility.
''It's true that violence, corruption, and criminality continue to pose challenges in Iraq," he said.
''It's critically important that it be attacked and that the new leadership in that country be measured against their commitment to attack corruption," he added.
Rumsfeld provided no specific examples.
But there have been recent allegations that some revenue from Iraq's slowly rebuilding oil industry has been siphoned to help finance the insurgency there.
He added that ''our awareness of corruption is increasing," because coalition officials are doing more to investigate those problems within the government.
The committee chairman, John Warner, Republican of Virginia, said the next six months would be critical in Iraq and would be key to the eventual withdrawal of US troops and coalition forces. He said increasing problems with corruption in Iraq have made matters more difficult for coalition forces.
Rumsfeld faced criticism from one committee member, Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, who said the $439.3 billion military budget for 2007 that President Bush proposed Monday is not responsible because it does not reflect the billions that will be spent on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Levin also questioned whether the United States will be able to sustain the necessary troop levels in Iraq, where difficult conditions are wearing down both people and equipment. A report conducted for the Pentagon drew a similar conclusion last month.
Bush proposed an initial payment of $50 billion for those wars next year, compared with $120 billion the administration says will be needed this year.