Acting on the recommendations of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Pentagon will cut one combat brigade from Iraq six weeks earlier than planned.

The decision was announced Wednesday in Washington and will bring the number of brigades down from 15 to 14.

"The security situation is such that Petraeus has made a decision to bring them home about six weeks early," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. "The hope is they can come home before Christmas."

Petraeus, who took over Central Command at the end of October, made the recommendation based on input from Odierno, who succeeded him in September as head of all U.S. forces in Iraq.

The drawdown is the result of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division not being backfilled when it departs, officials said. In addition, the plan means cutting to 13 months the tour of the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, which was scheduled to leave Iraq early next year. Instead, it will head home beginning this month.

A brigade that was to head to Iraq will, as previously announced, instead head to Afghanistan.

Reducing troops in Iraq has been a requirement of the Pentagon’s desires to beef up U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

American commanders there say they need as many as three more brigades and associated support forces to fight a renewed Taliban insurgency.

President-elect Barack Obama has supported a troop increase in Afghanistan and campaigned on a pledge to get American combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

Greatly diminished violence and falling U.S. troop deaths in Iraq have made the troop cuts possible.

In Baghdad, where the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne has been deployed, violence has been reduced to levels not seen since the early days of the war, before the roiling sectarian bloodshed and Sunni-led insurgency.

Within the unit’s area, overall attacks declined by half and murders dropped 90 percent.

"My Soldiers are very satisfied with the progress made in Northwest Baghdad during this deployment, especially in their partnership with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police," Col. William Hickman, the 2nd Brigade commander, said in an e-mail to Stripes on Thursday. "We deployed in Oct[ober] 2007. A majority of our Soldiers will be home for Thanksgiving and all for the December holidays. So as you would expect, they are happy about being able to spend the upcoming holiday time with their families."

Petraeus and Odierno were the commanders during the "surge" in which the number of combat brigades in Iraq topped out at 20.

This summer, the last of those combat brigades left, bringing the number of U.S. troops in country to around 150,000.

Some members of Congress have criticized the Bush administration’s withdrawal plans, asking for a faster and larger drawdown.

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