[R-G] Officials: All But 30-50, 000 troops out of Iraq in 18 months
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Tue Feb 24 17:25:26 MST 2009
Officials: Most troops out of Iraq in 18 months
By PAMELA HESS and ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writers Pamela Hess
And Anne Gearan, Associated Press Writers 28 mins ago
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to remove all U.S. combat
troops from Iraq by August 2010, administration officials said
Tuesday, ending the war three months later than he had promised during
his presidential campaign.
The withdrawal plan — an announcement could come as early as this week
— calls for leaving a large contingent of troops behind, between
30,000 and 50,000 troops, to advise and train Iraqi security forces
and to protect U.S. interests.
Obama built enormous grass-roots support for his White House bid by
pledging to withdraw troops 16 months after taking office. That
schedule, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, was
predicated on commanders determining that it would not endanger U.S.
troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.
The contingent remaining will include intelligence and surveillance
specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft,
according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of
anonymity because the plan has not been made public.
The complete withdrawal of American forces will take place by December
2011, the period by which the U.S. agreed with Iraq to remove all
A senior White House official said Tuesday that Obama is at least a
day away from making a final decision. He further said an announcement
on Wednesday was unlikely, but he said that Obama could discuss Iraq
during a trip to North Carolina on Friday.
About 142,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, roughly 14 brigades, about
11,000 more than the total in Iraq when President George W. Bush
announced in January 2007 that he would "surge" the force to put down
the insurgency. He sent an additional 21,000 combat troops to Baghdad
and Anbar province.
Although the number of combat brigades has dropped from 20 to 14, the
U.S. has increased the number of logistical and other support troops.
A brigade is usually about 3,000 to 5,000 troops.
Removing so many people and tons of equipment presents logistical
difficulties. The 19-month strategy is a compromise between commanders
and advisers who worry that security gains could backslide in Iraq and
those who think the bulk of U.S. combat work is long since done.
The White House considered at least two other options — one that
followed Obama's 16-month timeline and one that stretched withdrawal
over 23 months, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.
Some U.S. commanders have spoken more optimistically in recent months
about prospects for reducing the force.
Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who just left his job overseeing U.S.
operations in Anbar Province, said Tuesday that he saw violence drop
to an almost "meaningless" level over the past year.
Kelly told reporters Tuesday that in the area that was the home ground
of the Sunni insurgency, American combat forces don't have enough to
do and most could have pulled out months ago.
"There is still a security issue there, but in the province I just
left the (Iraqi) army and the police are more than handling the
remnants of what used to be al-Qaida," Kelly said. "There's other
parts of Iraq that aren't going quite as well but all of Iraq is doing
According to officials, Obama had requested a range of options from
his top military advisers, including one that would have withdrawn
troops in 16 months. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently forwarded
withdrawal alternatives to the White House for Obama's consideration.
In addition to the U.S. troops to be withdrawn, there is a sizable
cadre of contractors who provide services to them who would pack their
bags as well. There were 148,050 defense contractor personnel working
in Iraq as of December, 39,262 of them U.S. citizens.
There are more than 200 U.S. military installations in Iraq. According
to Army officials interviewed by the Government Accountability Office,
it can take up to two months to shut down small outposts that hold up
to 300 troops. Larger entrenched facilities, like Balad Air Base,
could take up to 18 months to close, according to the GAO.
As of Monday, at least 4,250 members of the U.S. military had died in
the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated
Press count. More than 31,000 have been injured. An additional 35,841
have received medical air transport due to non-hostile incidents.
Congress has approved more than $657 billion so far for the Iraq war,
according to a report last year from the Congressional Research Service.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven, Robert Burns, Lolita C.
Baldor, Steven Hurst, Anne Flaherty, Richard Lardner and Pauline
Jelinek contributed to this report.
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