Washington Post: Petraeus Open to Pullout of 1 Brigade
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus has indicated a willingness to consider a drawdown of one brigade of between 3,500 and 4,500 U.S. troops from Iraq early next year, with more to follow over the next months based on conditions on the ground, according to a senior U.S. official.
The pullouts would be contingent on the ability of U.S. and Iraqi forces to sustain what the administration heralds as recent gains in security and to make further gains in stabilizing Iraq. President Bush signaled the possibility of drawdowns after visiting Anbar province earlier this week. After meeting with Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Bush said he was told that “if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.”
To be honest, this isn’t all that newsworthy. The “surge” was never meant to be permanent, and US troop levels have been contingent upon Iraqi capability and security from day one. Also, this hint mirrors other hints from the previous few weeks which have indicated that US troop reductions may be in the works.
The “surge” in 2007, coupled with the other aspects of the plan announced last January, basically made up for a squandered 2006. While we might wonder if Iraqi forces in 2006 would have been capable of what we’re expecting them to be capable of by the end of this year, there’s very little, militarily speaking, that we couldn’t have done a year ago.
A significant difference, though, is the attitude of many Iraqi citizens and tribal leaders. A carnage-filled 2006, with US troops pulled back off many streets and offensive operations against insurgents and terrorists reduced, seems to have convinced many that the bad guys are worse than the US troops. This not only helped US and Iraqi troops clear out some of the unwanteds, it has helped set the stage for a US reduction that actually has a hope of success. One brigade represents one-fifth of the “surge” force.
Not all are heartened by the apparent success of the 2007 strategy and hopes for an even better 2008. Greatly improved conditions in Iraq and a likely-positive report coming soon from Gen. Petraeus have opened the door to possible compromise between the political parties. And that doesn’t make everyone happy:
“Rather than picking up votes, by removing the deadline to get our troops out of Iraq, you have lost this Democrat’s vote,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), a presidential candidate. “It is clear that half measures are not going to stop this president or end this war.”
Actually, what is clear are Dodd’s priorities. First is “stopping this president” and next up is “ending this war”.
Call me crazy, but I strongly believe that “winning this war” to be the top priority.
For what it’s worth, the British pullout from Basra should help make clear whether the Iraqi forces are capable of dealing with insurgents and militias, and (even more importantly) if the Iraqi government is truly interested in dealing with them.