Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bush administration may accelerate withdrawal of troops from Iraq

The Bush administration is considering withdrawing more troops from Iraq:
The Bush administration is considering the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq beginning in September, according to administration and military officials, raising the prospect of a far more ambitious plan than expected only months ago.

Such a withdrawal would be a striking reversal from the nadir of the war in 2006 and 2007.

One factor in the consideration is the pressing need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and other fighters have intensified their insurgency and inflicted a growing number of casualties on Afghans and U.S.-led forces there.

More U.S. and allied troops died in Afghanistan than in Iraq in May and June, a trend that has continued this month.

Although no decision has been made, by the time President George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, at least one and as many as three of the 15 combat brigades now in Iraq could be withdrawn or at least scheduled for withdrawal, the officials said.

The desire to move more quickly reflects the view of many in the Pentagon who want to ease the strain on the military but also to free more troops for Afghanistan and, potentially, other missions.

The most optimistic course of events would still leave 120,000 to 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from the peak of 170,000 late last year after Bush ordered what became known as the "surge" of additional forces.

Any troop reductions announced in the heat of the presidential election could blur the sharp differences between the candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, over how long to stay in Iraq. But the political benefit might go more to McCain than Obama. McCain is an avid supporter of the current strategy in Iraq. Any reduction would indicate that that strategy has worked and could defuse antiwar sentiment among voters.

Even as the two candidates argue over the wisdom of the war and keeping U.S. troops there, security in Iraq has improved vastly, as has the confidence of Iraq's government and military and police forces, raising the prospect of additional reductions that were barely conceivable a year ago.

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