WASHINGTON – Gen. David Petraeus said Monday he has recommended to President Bush that the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq begin this month with the departure of a California-based Marine unit.
Petraeus also said he favored continuing troop cuts even after force levels return — by next summer — to levels that prevailed before Bush announced last January that he was building up U.S. forces as part of a new military strategy to stabilize Iraq. Petraeus did not specify how deep the cuts should go, but he presented a chart indicating a series of reductions to as few as five brigades, or one-quarter the size of today's force.
The departure of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, from Camp Pendleton, Calif., would be followed in December by the redeployment of an unspecified Army brigade, which would number about 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers, Petraeus told the House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services committees.
By July 2008 all the extra 30,000 troops sent to Iraq as part of Bush's revised war strategy would be withdrawn, Petraeus said. The combat portion of that force includes five Army brigades, two Marine infantry battalions and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The buildup also included about 8,000 support troops.
Thus by July 2008 the U.S. troop total would be about 130,000, which was where it stood before Bush began his buildup in January.
Petraeus said he foresaw even deeper troop cuts beyond July 2008, but he recommended that Bush wait until March 2008 to decide when to go below 130,000 — and at what pace — amid a transition of U.S. military missions.
"Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous," he said.
The U.S. military mission also would transition, beginning next year, from the current approach of focusing primarily on securing the Iraqi population, with U.S. troops in the lead, to an "overwatch" role with the Iraqis in the lead, according to a chart Petraeus presented to the House committees.
The five Army brigades that deployed to Iraq between January and June, and which Petraeus said he recommended be withdrawn between December of this year and July 2008, are:
— 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.
— 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.
— 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
— 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
— 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
The other portions of the troop buildup that would be withdrawn, Petraeus said, are two Marine battalions, which are elements of the 2nd Regimental Combat Team and 6th Regimental Combat Team.