Washington The Bush administration and military leaders are sounding optimistic notes about scaling back U.S. troops in Iraq next year, as public opposition to the war and congressional demands for withdrawal get louder.
Contingency plans for a phased withdrawal include proposals to further postpone or cancel the deployment of a Fort Riley, Kan., brigade and an option to put a combat brigade in nearby Kuwait in case it is needed, said a senior Pentagon official.
While military leaders would not confirm the size of possible withdrawals, conversations with defense officials and analysts suggest troop levels could drop below 100,000 next year, contingent on the progress of the Iraqi government and its security forces. There are currently about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
The official, who asked not to be identified because plans are not final, said stresses on the National Guard and Reserves are also factors.
On Wednesday, Pentagon officials would not confirm any reduction plans. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said there has been "very positive" development of Iraqi security forces, and he added that "we plan for every possible contingency," including a smaller coalition force.
President Bush has refused to set a withdrawal timetable, and the administration has consistently said U.S. troops will remain as long as needed. Led by Vice President Dick Cheney, the administration has strongly opposed last week's call by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., for a U.S. withdrawal within six months.