From tomorrow’s Financial Times:
The US is expected to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next 12 months in spite of the continuing violence, according to the general responsible for near-term planning in the country.
Maj Gen Douglas Lute, director of operations at US Central Command, yesterday said the reductions were part of a push by Gen John Abizaid, commander of all US troops in the region, to put the burden of defending Iraq on Iraqi forces. He denied the withdrawal was motivated by political pressure from Washington.
He said: We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward. You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It’s very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country.
If we see that and if we see progress on the second front, which is continued progress with the Iraqi security force next year, this time we’ll be in the position to make some adjustments in our force structure.
Last week, Gen Peter Schoomaker, US army chief of staff, said his office was planning for the possibility that troop levels could be maintained until 2009. But Maj Gen Lute said such a worst-case scenario was unlikely.
I will tell you this, as the operation officer of Centcom, if a year from now I’ve got to call on all those army troops that Gen Schoomaker is prepared to provide, I won’t feel real good about myself, he said. Gen George Casey, commander of allied forces in Iraq, made similar comments last month on reductions that could come by early next year but they were quickly played down by the White House.
George W. Bush, the US president, has said no decisions have been made on troop levels in 2006. I think they were rumours. I think they’re speculation. We will stay, we will fight and we will win the war on terror. An immediate withdrawal from Iraq or the greater Middle East would only embolden the terrorists.
Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, insisted that Mr Bush and his top generals remain united on the issue. “Any suggestion that there is disagreement between the President and our military commanders in Iraq is absurd,” he said.