Compromise Led to Iraq Troop Plan

"The decision is [the president's]; it has not been made yet," said Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman. (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)
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By Ann Scott Tyson and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Pentagon plan for future U.S. troop levels in Iraq now under consideration by President Bush resulted from a compromise at the highest levels of the U.S. military, with top Iraq commander Gen. David H. Petraeus initially seeking to sustain the current level of 15 combat brigades through June while members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged a swifter reduction, according to senior military officials.

Security gains in Iraq, most notably in Anbar province, Baghdad and the southern city of Basra, led Adm. Michael Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman, to favor cutting the force in Iraq to 14 combat brigades by February -- the final Pentagon recommendation that went to Bush this week, the officials said.

Mullen concluded that "the risk we take in continuing to reduce is one that can be mitigated," according to a senior military official familiar with the discussions.

The recommendation "was more conservative coming out of Iraq," the official said. Petraeus "initially wanted to keep the 15 through mid-next year," said the official, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because Bush has not yet made a decision.

One senior military official differed, however, saying Petraeus initially entertained a range of courses of action in mid-August before settling on the earlier withdrawal.

Bush is expected to announce troop adjustments in Iraq and Afghanistan in a speech at National Defense University on Tuesday that will follow the final Pentagon recommendation he received this week from Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. "The decision is his; it has not been made yet," Mullen said in an interview.

Senior military officials said the "consensus" proposal incorporated the final recommendation of Petraeus. He called for withdrawing 7,500 to 8,000 troops from Iraq by the end of January, including an 1,100-man Marine Corps battalion and a Marine aviation squadron of several hundred strong to depart this fall, an Army combat brigade of up to 4,000 soldiers to depart in mid-January, and more than 1,000 support troops, such as logisticians and forces, assigned to handle detainees.

The Pentagon plan also calls for bolstering the U.S. force in Afghanistan to counter a growing insurgency, deploying a Marine battalion there in November to replace one that is departing, and sending an Army brigade of 3,500 to 4,000 troops there early next year.

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commander of U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan, has asked for two additional combat battalions as well as reconnaissance capabilities to counter an intensifying insurgency there, officials said. Schloesser said yesterday that he needs about 2,000 more troops to conduct more robust operations and speed progress, and that he is "optimistic" he will get them "in coming months."

"I've got a couple areas here . . . that I have very low numbers of troops in, and therefore I'm not able to really get good effects on the ground. I can come in and I can clobber the enemy, but then I can't hold it and stay with the people," Schloesser said at a Pentagon news conference.

Mullen said the Pentagon is considering a new model for how U.S. forces are employed in Afghanistan that would require the troops to fight insurgents and train Afghan security forces at the same time.

"Certainly in those tough spots we need to train and fight as well," Mullen said. "This simultaneous dual mission recognizes the clock ticking and moves through the mission more rapidly," he said, reflecting a sense of urgency to counter rising violence in Afghanistan.

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