Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The "five Army brigade combat teams, a Marine expeditionary unit and two Marine battalions" designated for withdrawal from Iraq by July "represent a very significant force. They are the force, in fact, that have helped us substantially in achieving some of the recent gains that our troopers have fought so hard to achieve. And posing that withdrawal, I believe, is a very substantial withdrawal."

-- Gen. David H. Petraeus

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The U.S. military drawdown that Petraeus backed largely traces the long-planned ebbing of the troop "surge" dictated by a 15-month limit on Army deployments. Under that limit, the five Army brigades that made up the bulk of the buildup were scheduled to begin departing from Iraq in March or April, with one brigade moving each month through July or August.

Petraeus's recommendation accelerates that plan, by calling for one Army brigade with about 3,500 troops to leave in mid-December and not be replaced, followed by four others at one every 45 days. In addition, two Marine battalions would depart by next summer without being replaced.

The gradual decrease from 20 to 15 combat brigades, if approved, would bring U.S. forces closer to the pre-buildup level of about 130,000 troops by the end of next summer, allowing other U.S. forces to stay for an unspecified period.

The first contingent to depart, beginning this month, would be the approximately 2,200 Marines of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is completing a seven-month overseas rotation after five months in Anbar province. The Marines were extended in Iraq for about a month beyond their scheduled tour to conduct operations against insurgent sanctuaries in Anbar's Lake Thar Thar region.

Marine deployments in Anbar were first increased in November by the top U.S. commander in the Middle East at the time, Gen. John P. Abizaid, who deployed an extra Marine expeditionary unit there after a senior intelligence officer described the province as "lost" to the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Petraeus outlined the possibility of a reduction to 12 combat brigades after July but said he could not make a final recommendation until March. A chart displayed during his testimony had the number of brigades on one axis and "time" on the other, but the "time" axis lacked some labels.

-- Ann Scott Tyson

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