By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 10, 2007 - Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff fully support Army Gen. David H. Petraeus' proposal for reducing troops in Iraq to pre-surge levels by mid-July, Petraeus told Congress today. The recommendation, which President Bush must approve for it to be put into effect, would reduce the U.S. force in Iraq from 20 to 15 combat brigade teams next summer. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, told the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees today that coalition and Iraqi forces have made significant security progress since the surge began. "As a result, the United States will be in a position to reduce its forces in Iraq in the months ahead," he said.
Petraeus recommended no replacements for two units that make up the surge force: a Marine expeditionary unit to redeploy later this month, and an Army brigade combat to redeploy in mid-December. He also recommended that four additional brigade combat teams and two surge Marine battalions redeploy without replacement during the first seven months of 2008.
"Five Army brigade combat teams, a Marine expeditionary unit and two Marine battalions represent a very significant force," he said. "They are the force, in fact, that have helped us substantially in achieving some of the recent gains that our troopers have fought so hard to achieve."
Petraeus said his proposed timeline for a drawdown of these surge forces reflects a careful consideration of conditions on the ground, successes made to date, and what's needed to maintain and build on those successes.
Petraeus said the plan represents a careful balance of important factors. Among them, he said, is the fact that political progress in Iraq will take place only if there's enough security. Meanwhile, he said, he recognizes that force reductions as the surge runs its course will benefit the long-term viability of U.S. ground forces.
In developing his proposal, he said, he factored in operational requirements as well as demands on the force. He said he's "very aware" of strains on the force, particularly among ground troops.
Based on these considerations, Petraeus said, he and Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, worked through the "battlefield geometry" to come up with the plan.
"I believe that this is the approach to take to sustain the gains that we have achieved, to build on them, to transition to Iraqi security forces as quickly as we possibly can," he said.
Petraeus said it's too soon to determine how quickly additional troop reductions can take place.
"I do not believe it is reasonable to have an adequate appreciation for the pace of further reductions and mission adjustments beyond the summer of 2008 until after mid-March of next year," he said.
He cautioned against withdrawing troops too quickly. "There are no easy answers or quick solutions. And though we both believe this effort can succeed, it will take time," he said.
Petraeus said his assessment underscores the recognition that a premature drawdown of U.S. forces would have devastating consequences.
"Lieutenant General Odierno and I share this assessment," he said. "(We) believe that the best way to secure our national interests and avoid an unfavorable outcome in Iraq is to continue to focus our operations on security the Iraqi people while targeting terrorist groups and militia extremists, and, as quickly as conditions are met, transitioning security tasks to Iraqi elements."