Gen. Petraeus Likely To Push For Flexibility

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
USA Today
April 7, 2008
Pg. 6
Lawmakers don't expect timetable
By Jim Michaels, USA Today
WASHINGTON — In delivering his report to Congress this week, the top U.S. commander in Iraq probably will not commit to a timetable for troop withdrawals beyond the summer, according to some lawmakers and military experts.
Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will testify Tuesday and Wednesday, their first joint testimony before Congress since September.
"I think he will avoid making what would be perceived as a commitment to meet troop withdrawal deadlines," said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. "I think it's important for Gen. Petraeus to maintain flexibility."
Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other officials have said they support a pause in troop withdrawals after the last of the "surge" forces leave in July. The time would be used to assess conditions once most of the 30,000 additional troops depart.
Without a scheduled drawdown for the second half of the year, Petraeus and commanders in Iraq would be able to make adjustments in overall troop levels as needed. For example, the command could allow brigades to return to the USA without a scheduled replacement if security is improving. If troops are needed, the scheduled replacement could deploy to Iraq.
After the last of the surge forces leave in July, the Army also expects to be able to reach its goal of shortening combat tours from 15 months to 12; there will be a year of rest time between deployments. More than a year ago, the military boosted U.S. force levels to about 160,000 troops in Iraq and positioned forces in small combat outposts where they could better protect citizens. The troop drawdown will bring levels to about 140,000.
When Petraeus and Crocker went to Capitol Hill in September,, a liberal group, sponsored an advertisement with the headline, "General Betray Us?" The advertisement was criticized in Congress, and political analysts expect a different tone this time. "It blew up in their faces," said Brian Linn, a military history professor at Texas A&M. "It was a public relations catastrophe."
Democrats critical of the war's conduct are being careful to distinguish between politics and personalities in advance of this week's hearing.
"I'm not laying blame on Petraeus," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Petraeus did his job."
Biden and other critics of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy want a stronger commitment to reduce troop levels but say they don't expect to get any reassurances. They also acknowledge that they don't have enough support in Congress to force a timetable for withdrawal on the Pentagon.
"There aren't the votes … to do that," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Sunday on Fox News Sunday. He said he expects Petraeus will draw down the surge troops, then assess whether to move ahead with additional troop reductions. "He's going to be allowed to do that," Kerry said.
Nevertheless, Biden made it clear in Saturday's Democratic radio address that war critics will find it hard to accept any assertions by Petraeus that the surge has been a success.
"The purpose of the surge was to bring violence in Iraq down so that its leaders could come together politically," Biden said. Despite a decline in violence, he said, "the Iraqis have not come together."
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and others have argued that determining troop levels in Iraq without considering other military needs is a mistake. "We've under-resourced Afghanistan," said Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "We've seen Pakistan lurch from one crisis to another. … This is the true context."
Petraeus and Crocker will be able to point to improvements in security and some political progress over the past year, including passage of a law that establishes provincial elections in October.
However, recent clashes between Shiite militias and Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air and other support have highlighted the tentative nature of some security gains. Armed Shiite militants came out in force in the southern city of Basra and parts of Baghdad.
"We've said all along that the security situation in Iraq was not irreversible, that it was very tenuous, that there were flash points that could draw portions of Iraq back into violence," said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "That's what we saw."
U.S. officials say the violence won't slow the pace of the drawdown through July. "We're still … coming down to 15 brigades," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The surge added five brigades to Iraq, bringing the total to 20. One of those brigades has left Iraq.
Some supporters of the surge say commanders will probably need 15 brigades in Iraq through the end of this year. "I have difficulty envisioning continuing to reduce further in 2008," said Jack Keane, a retired Army general who was a chief architect of the strategy.
Keane said the force levels are needed to ensure that security gains in Baghdad, Anbar and other parts of Iraq are maintained, al-Qaeda is defeated in its remaining stronghold of Mosul and there are enough forces to counter Iranian influence in the south.