WASHINGTON – Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will stay on the job there at least through late fall, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
In a move to beat back rumors that Petraeus was being considered for other top military posts, Gates opened his Pentagon briefing with the stern disclaimer that President Bush has been "pretty clear that he wants General Petraeus to stay right where he is at least through late fall and maybe the end of the year."
Speculation about the highly-regarded four-star general's future has been rampant, but officials, including Gates on Thursday, have stressed that no decisions have been made. Reports earlier this week suggested that Petraeus, who took over the top job in Iraq about a year ago, was being considered to be the next head of the U.S. military's European Command.
In that job he would command U.S. troops in Europe and also serve as the supreme allied commander of NATO, a key post that oversees the allies' military operations in Afghanistan.
Gates also said Thursday that any decision to reduce troop deployments from the current 15 months to 12 months will not be made until after Petraeus returns to Washington in March or April to report on progress in Iraq and offer recommendations for future troop levels there.
Senior Army and Pentagon leaders are reviewing a proposal from U.S. Army Forces Command that would cut soldiers' battlefield tours to 12 months, beginning with those who deploy on or after Aug. 1. In addition, under the preliminary proposal, some of those units currently in Iraq or Afghanistan also might see reduced time on the battlefront.
The proposal is seen as an effort to reduce the stress on already strained Army, which is fighting wars on two fronts. But officials have said any move would be contingent on the changing needs for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, has been pushing to move back to one-year deployments, citing the heavy burden that the 15-month stays put on troops and their families. Last week he said the move to shorter tours could begin this summer.