Bush Administration Weighs Stepped Up Pace of Iraq Withdrawal

The Bush administration is considering withdrawal additional combat forces from Iraq, but a timeframe will depend on a report from newly-confirmed Central Command leader and Multinational Forces in Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus, the Pentagon said Sunday.

Citing administration and military officials, The New York Times reported Sunday that although no final decision has been made, additional troops could begin departing in September, and at least one and as many as 3 of the 15 combat brigades in Iraq could either be withdrawn or scheduled for withdrawal by the time President Bush leaves office.

The report references the need for additional troops in Afghanistan, where efforts by the Taliban have increased, as a cause for the consideration to withdraw troops.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have both said they want to begin shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, and to withdrawal forces from Iraq based on conditions on the ground. If Iraq remains on the positive trends through September, removing additional troops would be the logical next step.

However, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said no timeframe for taking additional troops from Iraq has been set.

"Secretary Gates certainly hopes that conditions in Iraq allow for continued troops drawdowns this year and the steady security progress we have seen lately would suggest that may indeed be possible. However, no decisions have been made yet and won't be for some time," he said.

"The last surge brigade is still pulling out of Iraq. Once they have left the country, we will begin a 45 day period of consolidation and evaluation. At the end of that time, Gen. Petraeus will make a recommendation to Secretary Gates and President Bush about whether to continue the troop drawdown," Morrell said.

Mullen too would not confirm a date certain for more troops to leave.

"I'm a long way from saying we are done or it's over," Mullen told FOX News earlier this week, noting that Iraq's stabilization and reconstruction are moving more smoothly now.
"We actually have a chance of getting this part right," Mullen said.
Asked if it was time to start withdrawing troops from Iraq to free them up for Afghanistan, Mullen responded, "We have a lot of hard and dangerous work ahead."

The Times reported that although the consensus in Washington and Baghdad is that forces may leave Iraq, Bush may be cautious due to goals of establishing a stable, democratic government in the country.

“There hasn’t really been any discussion of numbers, and it’s definitely based on conditions on the ground,” a military officer in Baghdad told the Times. And conditions, he went on, “are a lot more favorable than in December or April or even two months ago.”

U.S. commanders on the ground are moving forward with great caution, saying any withdrawal of U.S. forces must be handled very carefully. Mullen and Gen. David McKiernan, the new top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, both confirmed to FOX News that the Afghan mission needs at least three more combat brigade teams, though McKiernan suggested three would still not be enough.

White House officials will say that a number of scenarios are under consideration and that commanders talk regularly with the defense secretary, who reports to the president and senior staff about options.

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Dick Lugar said it may not be so easy to leave Iraq because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has several political problems, including provincial elections, a fragile security in Anbar that could delay a Status of Forces Agreement and individual provincial leaders attempting to make independent oil deals that ignore how the revenues are to be distributed.

"As far as our troops are concerned, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, has indicated we need troops in Afghanistan. But he has no troops to send to Afghanistan," Lugar, R-Ind., said. "So it is logical in the military sequence that we are going to move troops out of Iraq, not immediately perhaps to Afghanistan, but at least to relieve the strain, which is intense right now upon our armed forces. And that is why it may make sense."

Click here to read more on this story from The New York Times.