The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.
It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.
For four straight years, the same set of war supporters have constantly and repetitiously given the same exact false assurances about Iraq -- virtually verbatim -- in order to protect themselves politically. It is hard to know what is more amazing about this ritual -- (a) how stupid they believe Americans are that they can make the same commitments over and over which never transpire, or (b) that the press jumps each time to proclaim the imminent troop reductions as though it never happened before:
The withdrawal of 20,000-40,000 U.S. troops from Iraq this fall would greatly help Republican chances in the November election, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said at a fundraiser Thursday at the National Rifle Association. . . .
Souder said that plans to withdraw 30,000 soldiers from Iraq had been previously stated, so the term "surprise" only referred to how such a move could quickly change the political environment, which most polls and experts view as anti-Republican. . . .
About 130,000 U.S. service personnel are stationed in Iraq. It is unclear if some of those troops will be withdrawn, but senior military officials have said they hope to reduce that number below 100,000 by the end of the year if the insurgency does not worsen and if Iraq makes more political and military progress.
Trying to buy time with a public impatient over Iraq, President George W. Bush has repeatedly railed against the dangers of setting an "artificial timetable" for bringing home U.S. troops.
Yet the White House has signaled that it does have a timetable - all but saying that troops are likely to start pulling out of Iraq in 2006, possibly enough to cut the U.S. presence there in half, some analysts predict.
The military may reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq after next week's parliamentary elections, but some of those troops were slated to come home earlier. Meanwhile, others who have not arrived yet may get to stay put, a Pentagon source said Thursday.
It's long been in the works to bring home 23,000 troops after the elections. Those men and women were supposed to come home earlier, but their tours were extended to help beef up security before the December 15 elections, the source said.
The Pentagon formally announced Thursday that it had stopped the planned return from Iraq of some 20,000 American troops, giving commanders the extra firepower they believe necessary to confront an insurgency that is taking a mounting toll on the U.S.-led coalition.
The decision, announced by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after first being reported Wednesday, breaks a promise to soldiers who were assured when they arrived in Iraq that they would stay no more than one year. . . .
The United States has a total of about 137,000 troops in Iraq now, Rumsfeld said. That number was supposed to have dipped to 115,000 by May, but Rumsfeld said Gen. John Abizaid, the overall commander of the Iraq war, decided he needs to keep the force level at about 135,000 troops.
General Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon would be announcing "a very specific laydown" on Thursday.
Pace also told the House of Representatives Armed Services committee that the Pentagon plans to reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq to about 100,000 by May 2003 as new units are rotated in.
He said the reduction from four to three divisions would be accommodated by an increase in the size of Iraqi security forces from about 115,000 to some 171,000.
I personally hope, as I am sure all members of the Senate do, and I believe, that we will be able to withdraw a significant number of our men and women in uniform from Iraq by the end of this year and even more by next year. . .
General Abizaid and General Casey have said that it is their hope to begin withdrawing more troops by the end of 2006, and even more next year.
The situation in Iraq is a lot better, different than it was a year ago. . . .So I am confident that the situation is improving enough on the ground that by the end of this year, we will begin to draw down significant numbers of American troops, and by the end of the next year more than half of the troops who are there now will be home.
What exactly could war supporters do that they have not already done in order to lose complete credibility? Americans have clearly tuned them out, but they continue to be the highly respected war experts upon whom the media relies. If and when U.S. troops ever leave Iraq, these statements, issued time and again over the course of many years, are going to be compiled and it is going to be retrospectively mystifying how this truly wretched and ignoble spectacle was allowed to continue for so long.