Report: Obama gets first Iraq withdrawal plan
A new military plan for troop withdrawals from Iraq that was described in broad terms this week to the president-elect exceeds the 16-month timeline Barack Obama outlined in his campaign, U.S. military officials told The New York Times on Wednesday.
The proposal by Gen. David Petraeus, Central Command commander, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. general in Iraq, is their first recommendation on withdrawals under an Obama presidency, the paper reported. While Obama has said he will seek his commanders’ advice, their resistance to a faster drawdown could present the new president with a tough political choice between overruling his generals or backing away from his goal, the Times noted.
Military officials said the plan, completed last week, envisions withdrawing two more brigades — 7,000 to 8,000 troops — in the first six months of 2009, according to the report. But that would leave 12 combat brigades in Iraq by June 2009. While declining to be more specific, the officials made clear, the Times wrote, that the withdrawal of all combat forces under the recommendations would not come until after May 2010, Obama’s target.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell confirmed Thursday that Gates had asked Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to brief Obama’s national security team about what commanders in Iraq think the way ahead should be.
But Morrell said no decisions have been made on the matter, and he declined to get into specifics of the discussion.
Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he and Obama agreed about the need for a "responsible drawdown" in Iraq.
"He [Obama] did talk about the 16 months in terms of combat forces," Gates said at a news conference. "But he also talked about a responsible drawdown and that he was willing to listen to the commanders."
According to the Times, transition officials said the plan was described in only general terms to Obama by Gates, who is staying on as defense secretary, and Mullen when Obama met for five and a half hours with his national security team Monday in Chicago. They said all participants had sidestepped the details of how to reconcile Obama’s timetable for withdrawing combat forces with the more extended one recommended by the generals, the Times wrote.
Under a security agreement signed by the two countries, all U.S. forces must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. All combat forces are to be out of Iraqi cities by June 2009, though officials have said that many units’ missions could be reclassified from combat to training or mentoring.
In an Aug. 6 interview with Stars and Stripes, Obama complained that the U.S. policy on Afghanistan was drifting, in large part because too many combat troops were tied up in Iraq.
But he listed several "missions" for which he saw a need for a continued presence.