By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 17, 2008 - Five brigade combat teams, equal to 2007's troop surge, should be home by July, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. "All the evidence available to me now suggests that we will be able to complete the drawdown of the five brigade combat teams ... by the end of July," the secretary said at a briefing with the Pentagon press corps.
The first brigade has already left the country, but no specific timeline has been released for the redeployment of the others. Beyond that, additional troop movements will be based on assessments by military commanders in March and, ultimately, the president's decision, Gates said.
But, Gates said, he hopes that the pace of the drawdown can continue after July, which would mean five more brigade combat teams would leave the country by the end of the year.
Gates said that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of forces in Iraq, will submit his recommendations based on conditions and needs in theater. Simultaneously, U.S. Central Command officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff also will submit independent recommendations based on their respective responsibilities, taking into account stress on the force and regional and global requirements. The president will hear all three proposals.
This is the same process that happened in September, when Petraeus first recommended the five brigades begin leaving Iraq, Gates said.
"As it happened last September, each of them came at the problem with a different perspective and a little different emphasis," Gates said. "I want to make sure that the president has the opportunity to hear from these different perspectives and to ensure that his senior military advisors and commanders have the opportunity to present their views directly and unvarnished to the president."
Gates said the departure of the first brigade already has signaled the transition of the mission in Iraq to that of a "strategic overwatch."
Ultimately, Iraqi troops will be operationally in the lead, with U.S. soldiers providing only support such as training and equipping. Right now it is a mix across Iraq, with some provinces under Iraqi control and others still heavily reliant on coalition forces.
"This is a dynamic process that, if you're doing a graphic, Iraq is not going to change from one color to another all at once. It's going to change a province at a time, a local area at a time, and I think that's what we're seeing," Gates said.