Remember how the White House announced in January that the president was sending 21,500 more combat troops to Iraq, and then the number kept getting bigger? First the Bush administration denied that it was sending additional troops, then it admitted that it was sending 4,700 more support troops, and then Gen. David Petraeus ordered up an additional 2,500 or so combat aviation types, and before we knew it the 21,500-strong "surge" had some 30,000 soldiers heading for Iraq.
Well, surprise of surprises, it's looking like the drawdown of the surge will play out much the same way. Petraeus told Congress earlier this week that he believes the United States "will be able to reduce our forces to pre-surge level by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains." But as the Associated Press is reporting, "pre-surge level" doesn't necessarily mean, you know, "pre-surge level."
The AP explains: "Bush approved the redeployment of five Army combat brigades and three Marine contingents between now and July 2008, but that does not account for thousands of support forces -- including military police and an Army combat aviation brigade -- that were sent as 'enablers' and that apparently will stay longer."
There were between 130,000 and 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when the surge began. The AP says there are 169,000 there now. In an interview, Petraeus wouldn't say exactly how many troops would be coming home by next summer under his plan, but the AP says he "suggested" that it would be fewer than 30,000 and that the actual number is probably around 25,000. The net result: Come July, there may be something like 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, or around 10,000 to 15,000 more than there were when the "surge" began.