By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
May 9, 2007 – The Baghdad security plan is taking time to implement and will take time to produce results, so the evaluation of the plan in September, even if it's negative, likely won't lead to any precipitous actions, such as withdrawing all troops, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters at the Pentagon today. Speaking at a news conference with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gates said the evaluation probably will lead to a "new direction" for the strategy, whether the plan is working or not.
The United States has the capacity to sustain the surge into Baghdad through the spring of next year, Gates said, but future troop levels have not been decided. He said he made the announcement this week about the next troop rotation to Iraq, which involves 35,000 troops, to give the troops and families as much notice as possible.
"They may or may not have to (deploy), but they know their next deployment will not be before, say, December, so they know they've got seven months to plan. It also gives their units time to train and do all the right things," Gates said. "So I think that there's a little confusion in terms of what our capacity is and in terms of what will actually be needed."
Gates and Pace both emphasized that the evaluation in September will give them more information about what troop levels will be needed in Iraq in the future.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we all understand exactly how this process is going to work," Pace said. "We're going to get to September, we're going to take a look at where we are, then we're going to make recommendations, the secretary and the president are going to make decisions and we'll carry it out from there. But this positions us to be able to either sustain or not, based on what the decisions are at the top."
Gates said he hopes for bipartisan agreement on troop levels in Iraq - not necessarily on exact numbers and tactics, but on two basic principles: first, that is important for the United States to defend itself abroad so it doesn't have to defend itself against terrorists at home, and second, that the United States and Iraq will have some kind of strategic agreement that ensures U.S. troops are in Iraq as a stabilizing force for some time to come.
Gates indicated that U.S. troops might provide intelligence services, logistics support or air support, but that the Iraqi government would have a lot of input into decisions about future U.S. troop levels.
Currently, 10 Iraqi battalions are operating independently, 88 are operating in the lead with coalition forces, 27 are operating with coalition forces in the lead, and 29 still being formed, Pace said. The battalions operating on their own are able to plan and conduct their own missions, but may need air support, artillery support or medical evacuation help from U.S. forces.
Pace also said that April saw the highest number of explosively formed projectile attacks in Iraq than any other month. All the EFPs are manufactured in Iran, but it "is not possible to point directly to who inside of Iran is supplying those or who has knowledge of those," he said.
The primary purpose of the U.S. surge into Iraq is to provide stability for the Iraqi government to work on reconciliation and legislation, Gates said. Along those lines, he said, he cautioned Iraqi leaders on his recent trip to Baghdad that a two-month break by the Council of Representatives would be ill-advised.
"I was blunt enough to say that every day that we're buying them for reconciliation is being paid for with American blood, and that the idea of the ... Council of Representatives going out for two months, in my personal opinion, was unacceptable while we were continuing to pay that price," he said.
After his visit, Gates said he was confident that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the presidential council would do everything they could to convince the Council of Representatives not to take the break, and to continue working on the political progress that is so important to Iraq's future.
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