US to make Iraq troop level cuts

December 23rd, 2005  

Topic: US to make Iraq troop level cuts


US to make Iraq troop level cuts

US President George W Bush has authorised cuts in US troops levels in Iraq, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said in Iraq.

Speaking to troops in Falluja, Mr Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the cut but said combat forces would be reduced by two brigades.

Further reductions will be considered "at some point in 2006", he said.

The move will take the number of US soldiers to below the 138,000 level, seen for most of this year.

A brigade is usually made up of 4,000-5,000 troops.

Mr Rumsfeld, who was met by the US commander in Iraq, Gen George Casey, is visiting US troops in the country.

Political process

An extra 20,000 troops were sent to Iraq to bolster security during recent elections, and Mr Rumsfeld has previously said those troops would be withdrawn in January to return US force levels to the 138,000 baseline.

Friday's announcement marks the first time Mr Rumsfeld has said troop levels will dip below that level.

Mr Rumsfeld is due to meet Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Friday, after staying overnight in Iraq for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

After his arrival in Iraq, Mr Rumsfeld said Iraq would need time to build a working democratic government following elections on 15 December.

"The Iraqi people who are involved in this process are relatively new to the political process. It will take some time, I suspect," he said.

"It is a big, big, enormous thing for them to try to accomplish in a relatively short period of time."

More than 2,100 US troops have been killed in Iraq since the end of the invasion in April 2003, while Iraqi deaths are put at more than 30,000.

President Bush has come under increasing pressure over the war. Polls suggest most Americans are unhappy with his handling of the conflict, and some lawmakers are questioning how long the troops should stay.