The top U.S. general in Iraq acknowledged Thursday that American forces in this country are "stretched," but he said he will recommend withdrawals based only on operational needs.
Gen. George Casey told reporters he had discussed the issue with Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker on Wednesday and that the Army chief of staff believes he can still sustain the mission in Iraq.
"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."
He reiterated he would only recommend reductions in the more than 130,000-strong U.S. military presence in Iraq based on the situation on the ground.
On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that an unreleased study conducted for the Pentagon said the Army was being overextended because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and may not be able to retain and recruit enough troops to defeat the insurgency in Iraq.
A day later, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld disputed that, asserting that "the force is not broken."
Casey spoke after attending a ceremony in which Polish troops transferred leadership of the south-central region of Iraq to Iraqi forces, the first such handover since the war began in 2003. He rejected the idea that early troop withdrawals came because of strain on the military.
"That's not true, and the recommendation to begin the reduction of forces came from me based on our strategy here in Iraq," Casey said. "I made my decision based on operational reasons and I'll continue to do that. As I've said all along, I will ask for what I need to accomplish this mission."
Casey was adamant, however, that U.S. troops in Iraq are 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," he said.