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ARLINGTON, Va. – About 8,000 U.S. troops are expected to be withdrawn from Iraq by early next year, President Bush announced Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a Marine battalion and an Army brigade combat team are going to Afghanistan, Bush said.

Defense officials could not identify the units that will be sent to Afghanistan.

There are currently 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.

The head of the House Armed Services Committee issued a statement Tuesday saying the move essentially defers troop reductions in Iraq to the next president.

“More significant troop reductions in Iraq are needed so that we can start to rebuild U.S. military readiness and provide the additional forces needed to finish the fight in Afghanistan,” said U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., in the statement.

Speaking Tuesday at the National Defense University, Bush said the security progress in Iraq has allowed for troop reductions there.

“Over the next several months, we will bring home about 3,400 combat support forces – including aviation personnel, explosive ordnance teams, combat and construction engineers, military police and logistical support forces,” Bush said.

“By November, we will bring home a Marine battalion that is now serving in Anbar province,” he said. “And in February of 2009, another Army combat brigade will come home. This amounts to about 8,000 additional American troops returning home without replacement.”

Bush is also raised the possibility of future troop reductions in the first half of 2009 “if the progress in Iraq continues to hold.”

But Bush painted a much different picture of Afghanistan, where “some of the most hardened terrorists and extremists in the world” are stepping up attacks against Afghans and coalition forces.

“With their brutal attacks, the Taliban and the terrorists have made some progress in shaking the confidence of the Afghan people,” he said. “And in the face of all these challenges, the Afghan people are naturally questioning what their future looks like.”

A Marine battalion originally slated to go to Iraq will deploy this November to Afghanistan, followed by an Army brigade combat team in January, Bush said.

“The mission of these forces will be to work with Afghan forces to provide security for the Afghan people, protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and democratic institutions and help ensure access to services like education and healthcare,” he said.

Last month, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said it was “plausible” that a Marine battalion could replace the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, which is currently training Afghan security forces.

Conway has been a proponent of a greater Marine Corps presence in Afghanistan.

“We made the point that as we start to draw down in Iraq, when that first regiment comes out, we’ll be forced with the decision — do we bring it home or do we put it in Afghanistan? And I believe that Marines need to march to the sound of the guns, and if there’s a fight still going on, the Marines need to be there,” he told Stars and Stripes in June.


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