WASHINGTON – Military advisers are considering shifting U.S. troops around within Iraq, but the United States has no intention of throwing in the towel to Al-Anbar, the most violent of Iraq's 18 provinces, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace said Wednesday.
Asked specifically whether serious consideration is being given to the idea of abandoning Al-Anbar to put more U.S. forces in Baghdad, Pace bluntly replied "no."
"You gave me a very straight question. I gave you a very straight answer. No. Why would we want to forfeit any part of Iraq to the enemy? We don't," he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
"It is our goal to turn over every province in Iraq to the Iraq security forces under the command and control of the Iraq government. That is our goal. There is no immediate thought to moving all coalition forces out of Al Anbar province and turning over right now today all security in Al Anbar to Iraqi security forces. It's not on the table," he added.
Pace's response to questioning followed an ABC News report Tuesday that said Pentagon officials are considering "a major strategic shift in Iraq" that would move the 30,000 U.S. forces, mostly Marines, from the dangerous Sunni-dominated province that has been the site of the most U.S. casualties during the Iraq engagement.
ABC reported that the thinking builds off a memo first reported in a Washington Post story. In it, senior Marine Intelligence Officer in al-Anbar Col. Peter Devlin is quoted as saying "Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by Al Qaeda in Iraq."
Faced with that situation, ABC reported, Pace is considering turning al-Anbar over to Iraqi security forces and moving U.S. troops into Iraq's capital.
One Marine Corps source told FOX News it doesn't seem to make sense to pull military personnel from the most violent part of Iraq outside of Baghdad and the report doesn't reflect "recent thinking."
With that said, senior military officials appear to agree that securing Baghdad is the first priority, and Anbar province comes second.
Prior to Pace's meeting, senior defense officials said three battalions — roughly 2,000 U.S. troops — are being shifted from more peaceful parts of Iraq to Baghdad. No timetable was offered when they would be arriving in the capital city, but some of those being moved are already in close proximity.
Officials said those troops are not being shifted from Al-Anbar, but the movement does reflect the priority of securing Baghdad. The 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division will move from Mosul in northern Iraq, down to Baghdad to replace a Stryker brigade that has gone home to Alaska.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division is moving into Iraq and heading up to Mosul to take its place, officials said.
Four more battalions of U.S. troops are also being scheduled to go to Iraq early next year to boost security in Baghdad, senior defense officials said Wednesday. The extra combat engineer battalions of reserves would total about 3,500 troops, officials said. The units will come from around the United States and have already done a tour in Iraq, the officials said, but no decision has been made yet which units will be sent.
Currently, 139,000 U.S. service members are stationed in Iraq. About 20,000 are positioned around Baghdad.
Pace said Gen. George Casey, commander of the Multi-national Force in Iraq, can move troops around the battlefield as he sees fit to meet the tactical situation on the ground in Iraq.
"That is the province of General Casey," he said. "General Casey is working very closely with Prime Minister Maliki to ensure that the actions of the coalition forces and the actions of the Iraqi security forces are coordinated and that they support the political process that Prime Minister Maliki is striving to attain."
He added that "truth of the matter is, yes," officials are looking at shifting troops around within the country to achieve maximum security while enabling the political process to continue.
Pace said much of what has been leaking out from the planning meetings is "bits and pieces" that represent "one end of the spectrum or the other about all" that military advisers just back from Iraq have presented to Pentagon advisers.
"We are looking at the whole spectrum of possible military actions. And then we are analyzing that action against the desired outcome," he said.
"I'm not going to say to you where I am personally, nor where the chiefs are, because our responsibility is to give our best military advice. And as advisers, if we are to be heard and to have the trust of those to whom we're giving our advice, we need to be circumspect about what we say in public, how we say it, so that our ideas can be put into the other ideas," Pace added.
Sources who spoke with FOX News say the military community, as well as the Iraq Study Group and the National Security Council, are taking a serious look at the way forward in Iraq, and the military draws up all kinds of plans. A military planner said 99 percent of them never get executed. The ISG will release its recommendations Dec. 6.
The commission, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., is widely expected to call for regional talks, including involvement by Syria and Iran. It remained unclear what it would recommend possible U.S. troop withdrawals. As of Tuesday, its members — five Democrats and five Republicans — were divided over the appropriate U.S. troop levels in Iraq, and whether and how to pull American forces out of the country, according to one official close to the panel's deliberations.
A second official has said that the commission was unlikely to propose a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq but that some members seemed to favor setting a date for only an initial withdrawal, an idea that has been pushed by many congressional Democrats.
It is Pace's job to provide the best possible military advice to the civilian leadership both the secretary of defense and President Bush, and a senior military official said one military axiom is to always go to the boss with three or four possible ways forward — with one being the desired plan and the rest being throwaways.
One source close to a senior military commander said top officers are still focused on the plan that Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, discussed on Capitol Hill earlier this month in which he revealed military officials are considering seriously increasing the number of embedded U.S. training teams to make training of Iraqi forces "much more robust."
Pace said Abizaid was not talking about a timetable when he told Congress that it will take four to six months to see whether the United States can win in Iraq. Rather, the date was offered as a point on the calendar to measure how well training is going.
Pace added that he would not call the situation in Iraq a civil war because it doesn't meet the definition.
"Number one, the Iraq government does not call it a civil war. Two, the Iraq government is functioning. Three, the Iraq security forces are responsive to the Iraqi government. Four, the level of violence that's being inflicted by Al Qaeda and the like is specifically designed to create a civil war," he said.
"We spend a lot of time dancing on the head of a pin as far as what particular words we should use to describe the environment, which is currently unacceptable," Pace added. "From the macro viewpoint, the parts of a civil war, as I understand it, are not definable in today's environment. But that's really energy not well spent. Our energy ought to be spent on, where are we, where should we be, and how do we get from where we are to where we want to be."
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report .