Sunday, June 25, 2006

U.S. drafts plan for steep troop cuts in Iraq

Reminder: Republican Congress voted down Democratic bills to reduce troops, calling it "cut and run" tactics. Let's see if they say the same thing about the similar recommendations by the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

U.S. drafts plan for steep troop cuts in Iraq: NYT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The top U.S. commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects steep reductions in the U.S. military presence there by the end of 2007, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

Citing U.S. officials with knowledge of a classified Pentagon briefing this week by Gen. George Casey, the Times said the first cuts would come in September, and the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq is then projected to fall to five or six from the current level of 14 by the end of next year.

The withdrawals are greater than many experts and analysts had expected, the Times said on its Web site in a story to be published in its Sunday edition. The officials spoke of the Pentagon briefing on condition of anonymity, and some described the plan as more of a forecast than a hard timeline.

According to the newspaper, the plan envisions the first reductions coming in September, ahead of November's U.S. midterm elections, with two of the 14 combat brigades there being rotated out of Iraq without being replaced. Such brigades generally have about 3,500 troops each, the Times said.

A 127,000-strong American force is serving in Iraq more than three years into a war in which about 2,500 U.S. troops have died.

The number of bases in Iraq would also decline as U.S. forces consolidated, the Times said. By the end of the year, the number of bases would shrink to 57 from the current 69, and by June 2007 there would be 30 bases. By the end of that year, there would be 11, with the United States having three principal regional military commands: in Baghdad and the surrounding area, in Anbar Province and the west and in northern Iraq.


The withdrawals would depend on continued progress among Iraqi security forces and a drop in Sunni Arab hostility toward the new Iraqi government, and assume that the insurgency will not expand beyond Iraq's six central provinces, the Times said.

Casey last year forecast a "fairly substantial" reduction in U.S. troops this spring and summer if Iraq's political process goes well and progress is made in training Iraqi security forces. On Thursday he noted the U.S. force currently is about 12,000 troops below where it was when he last made that prediction in July 2005.

"What this process allows is for General Casey to engage with the new Maliki government so it can go from a notional concept to a practical plan of security implementation over the next two years," the Times quoted a White House official as saying.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Thursday that Casey had not yet made his long-awaited recommendation on future troop levels, and would do so after talks with the leaders of Iraq's fledgling unity government, headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Casey's briefing cited the main threats in Iraq as al Qaeda, criminal groups, Iranian support for violent Shi'ite organizations and ethnic and sectarian power struggles, the Times said. The plan projects a U.S. role involving a one-year stabilization period, followed by an emphasis on restoring the Iraqi government's authority, also expected to take about a year. The following year was cast as one in which the Iraqi government would be increasingly self-reliant, the Times said.

Officials said Casey's briefing also addressed the long-term U.S. presence; at the end of 2007 the United States would still have responsibility for the Iraqi capital and the area west of Baghdad, two of the most violent areas in the country.