Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Troop withdrawal in Iraq may slow or stop this summer

January 30, 2008

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Fort Riley soldier from Florida dies

A Fort Riley soldier died Sunday of wounds suffered from an explosive in Baghdad. Army Maj. Alan G. Rogers, 40, of Hampton, Fla., was assigned to the Military Transition Team, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley.

As of Tuesday, at least 3,941 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

— The Bush administration is sending strong signals that U.S. troop reductions in Iraq will slow or stop altogether this summer, a move that would jeopardize hopes of relieving strain on the Army and Marine Corps and revive debate over an open-ended U.S. commitment in Iraq.

The indications of a likely slowdown reflect concern by U.S. commanders that the improvement in security in Iraq since June - to a degree few had predicted when President Bush ordered five more Army brigades to Iraq a year ago - is tenuous and could be reversed if the extra troops come out too soon.

One of those extra brigades left in December and the other four are due to come out by July, leaving 15 brigades, or roughly 130,000 to 135,000 troops - the same number as before Bush sent the reinforcements.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is scheduled to report to the president and to Congress in April on possible additional cutbacks and any recommended changes in strategy. Petraeus recently said it would be prudent to "let things settle a bit" after the current round of troop cuts is completed in July before deciding whether and when to reduce further.

Majority Democrats in Congress have pressed unsuccessfully to wind down the war quickly, in part out of concern that more firepower should be transferred to Afghanistan, where the security situation has deteriorated. Reluctance by Bush to continue the troop drawdown beyond July is likely to trigger a new round of conflict with the anti-war Democrats, especially with the November elections looming.

Petraeus seems at this point to be inclined to declare a pause in troop reductions after July, although no decisions have been made and there are competing pressures from within the Pentagon. The Army in particular wants additional reductions to enable it to shorten Iraq tours from 15 months to 12 months. The longer tours are among pressures that Army leaders fear could break the force.

Petraeus speaks regularly with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other administration officials to keep them informed of his thinking, although he has not yet made a recommendation to Bush. A senior administration official said Petraeus has made clear he is "concerned about a rush to 10" - a reference to the 10-brigade force level that some administration officials see as an attractive target to hit by the time Bush leaves the White House a year from now.

The administration official said "it really is not determined" yet whether conditions in Iraq will permit further cutbacks. The official briefed reporters last week at the White House on condition of anonymity.

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