WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2008 – Plans to withdraw four Army brigade combat
teams and two Marine battalions by July are “on track” as the military
seeks to draw down the number of troops in Iraq as quickly as ground
conditions allow, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said today. |
Appearing today on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,” Army Gen.
David H. Petraeus said the scheduled withdrawal will reduce the number
of troops at the height of the surge by one quarter, or roughly 42,500.
Further reductions after July will be based on the state of Iraq’s
security, he added.
guidance that (Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates) in fact has given me
-- and the president and my chain of command, what all of them have
said -- is that reductions after July should be conditions-based,” he
The general said after the upcoming drawdown, Defense
Department and military officials will need time to “let things settle
a bit” before making further reduction assessments. Their focus, he
said, will be on removing forces expeditiously, but without
undercutting progress made during the troop surge that launched this
time last year.
Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force
Iraq, said drawdowns aim to relieve strains on servicemembers, many of
whom have engaged in multiple and extended deployments to support U.S.
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Force level reductions also would
save money and cut back the flow of resources, he said.
Army strives to provide soldiers the highest possible amount of “dwell
time” -- the period at home stations between deployments -- and reduce
deployments from 15 months to 12, the general added.
want to do it, again, in a way that will allow these gains to be
maintained. We don't want to jeopardize what we have fought so hard
for,” he said. “The key is to make the timing of that right and to
figure out when that will make sense.”
Petraeus and U.S.
Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are expected in coming months to
give Congress a follow-up to the military and diplomatic progress
update they delivered in September.
Asked today about Iraqi
security forces’ capability, Petraeus said the roughly 550,000-strong
force is assuming an increasingly larger role in maintaining the
country’s security. The overall forces -- composed of some 343,000
police members, 208,000 defense ministry soldiers and 4,000 special
operations forces -- suffer nearly three times the number of U.S
military casualties, which Petraeus said indicated the Iraqis’ devotion
to stability in their country.
Earlier this month, more than 2
million religious pilgrims gathered in Iraq to celebrate the Islamic
holiday Ashura. In a ceremony that has been marked in recent years by
“terrible bloodshed,” the Jan. 18 holiday occurred with minimal
violence, the general said.
“The Iraqi security forces planned
this year the security for that, … and in fact, in Najaf, Karbala, and
Baghdad the celebrations went off virtually without incident,” he said,
conceding that violence occurred in Basra and Nasiriya. “But Iraqi
security forces responded in each of those cases and dealt with the
Officials have stated that reductions of U.S.
forces in Iraq depend largely on an Iraqi security force that is
capable of tamping down violence in the country. Petraeus today noted
that half of Iraq’s 18 provinces currently are under provincial
control, but pointed out that Iraq’s security institutions face
challenges in breeding military leaders and in equipping and
maintaining the current forces.
“(Leadership) is the area that
is probably the most difficult, because you just can't find captains,
colonels, and generals out there in the numbers that they need by just
going back to those who are willing to serve from the old army -- not
all of whom, perhaps, have the qualities that one would want in the
leadership of the new Iraq army anyway,” Petraeus said.
easy, relatively speaking, to develop infantry battalions; it is very
difficult to develop the institutional underpinnings that support those
forces, maintain their vehicles, get them paid on time, feed them, and
all of the rest of that,” he added.
Petraeus said Iraqi
security forces are handling the challenges. The handover of
responsibility from U.S. to Iraqi forces is occurring not like a light
switch, he said, but more like a rheostat, referring to the type of
electrical resistor that adjusts to allow the flow of a current to grow
The Multinational Force Iraq commander said he
does not foresee the U.S. maintaining a permanent military presence in
Iraq, but rather a smaller number of U.S. troops remaining in Iraq “for
some period of years.” Citing key pieces of legislation passed by the
Iraqi parliament recently, Petraeus said in the future he envisions
troops performing a mission that places greater emphasis on empowering
Iraq’s “reconcilables,” those who embrace cooperation over
“I think our soldiers were prepared
intellectually for the concept that there were reconcilables whom we
needed to reach out to and try to become part of the solution over
time, rather than part of the problem,” he said. “And you try to
minimize the number of irreconcilables, because at the end of the day,
they have to be killed, captured, or run out of the country.”