Washington (AFP) Jun 10, 2007
The White House Sunday backed an eventual withdrawal of most US troops from Iraq after a report said detailed plans are afoot to retain a smaller military presence in the war-torn country for years. The Washington Post said US military officials are in early planning for a "sharp drawdown" of troops beginning by the middle of next year.
President George W. Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, declined to confirm or deny the report but said the immediate onus is on Iraqi authorities to end political discord and insurgent violence.
The Post said roughly two-thirds of the current force would leave Iraq by late 2008 or early 2009, and officials are grappling over the shape and size of a "post-occupation" presence that would last "for years."
"At some point certainly we do want to be in a position to be able to pull back," Snow told CBS television, while stressing "that anything that happens on the ground is going to be in response to conditions on the ground."
US forces could remain as a rapid-response back-up for "Iraqis handling all the front-line business" of security, the spokesman said.
But Iraqi authorities must also "develop the political basis that is going to encourage people to see themselves as part of an Iraqi government and to cooperate in going after insurgents and foreign fighters and others who are trying to blow up the democracy, literally and figuratively."
A suicide bomber killed nine Iraqi policemen and wounded dozens more on Sunday when he exploded his truck outside a police post near Tikrit, the northern hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
In the face of bloody violence blamed on Al-Qaeda extremists along with Sunni and Shiite factions, Bush has ordered the deployment of more than 21,500 extra troops to Iraq, bringing the total to 160,000 by this month.
US General David Petraeus, commander of allied forces in Iraq, is due to report back in September on the surge's impact as many Democrats agitate for an early withdrawal of US troops.
The Post report came after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday he was replacing General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to avoid a divisive showdown over Iraq in Congress.
Pace's departure will leave none of the top commanders who oversaw the 2003 invasion of Iraq in place. Then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld bowed out a month after the Democrats retook control of Congress in November.
Snow denied that the wholesale shake-up was the clearest harbinger of an about-face by Bush in Iraq as the clock winds down on his second term.
"No, I don't think so. What he (Gates) was doing is, frankly, acknowledging an unpleasant fact about politics. There would be contentious, backward-looking hearings (if Pace was re-nominated)," he said.
But speaking on CNN, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh said Gates was "bringing on a new crew that will be more candid and more realistic about what needs to be done in Iraq."
"And that is a good thing," added Bayh, a member of the Senate armed services committee.
The Washington Post said the plan's centerpiece would be a division of around 20,000 infantry soldiers assigned to guarantee the security of the Iraqi government and to assist Iraqi forces or their US advisers.
"A reduction of troops, some officials argue, would demonstrate to anti-American factions that the occupation will not last forever while reassuring Iraqi allies that the United States does not intend to abandon the country," it said.
A training force of close to 10,000 troops would work with Iraqi military and police units, while a "small but significant" special forces unit would stay focused on fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"I think you'll retain a very robust counter-terror capability in this country for a long, long time," one Pentagon official was quoted as saying.
The United States would also retain a headquarters and logistical force numbering more than 10,000 troops and civilian contractors in Iraq, the Post said.
Bush and other officials have taken to invoking South Korea as an example of a protracted US presence in a country long after formal hostilities have ended.
Senator John McCain, a Republican contender in the 2008 presidential race, refused to be drawn on a Korea-type timeline for US forces to stay in Iraq.
"But I could see us in a training and advisory capacity for a long time," he told ABC.
earlier related report
"I am disappointed that circumstances make this kind of a decision necessary," Gates said of the loss of Pace, who has held the country's top military post since September 2005.
The moves comes amid persistent difficulties in Iraq and sharpening political tensions at home with Congress already gearing up to receive a key progress report from US military commanders on the Iraq war in September.
Gates said he had intended to name Pace to a second two-year term as chairman in September, but changed his mind after consulting members of Congress, who also already have an eye on the 2008 presidential polls.
"I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform and General Pace himself would not be well served by a divisive ordeal in selecting the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," he told reporters.
Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the chief military adviser to US President George W. Bush and the most senior US military officer.
"I'm told the president reluctantly agreed because he has the highest regard for General Pace," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
In deciding to replace Pace with Admiral Michael Mullen, who is currently the chief of naval operations, Gates also had to replace Admiral Edmund Giambastiani as vice chairman so that the top two military positions would not both be held by naval officers.
Giambastiani will be replaced by Marine General James Cartwright, currently the head of the US Strategic Command, which is responsible for US strategic nuclear forces.
Bush later said in a statement he was "pleased to accept" his defense secretary's recommendation to have Pace replaced by Mullen, whom he said "will make a superb Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," and Mullen by Cartwright as vice chairman.
Bush praised Pace for serving his nation "with great distinction for forty years," and for ensuring US "military forces are prepared to meet the threats of this new century." Gates insisted that his decision was no reflection on either Pace's or Gambastiani's performance, only of the political realities of getting them confirmed to a second term.
He said he had spoken with Democratic and Republican senators over the past several weeks and came away convinced that "there was the very real prospect the process would be quite contentious."
Both officers were closely associated with former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, leading analysts to conclude Gates is clearing the decks to make way for officers with less baggage and a fresh perspective.
"Almost everybody who is getting a top job in the Pentagon now is in the mold of Bob Gates, meaning they are not ideological and they are oriented more to management excellent than to visionary ideas," said Loren Thompson, director of the Lexington Institute, a research group.
Pace will step down in September after a distinguished 40 year career in the marines that has ended under the cloud of a protracted and unpopular war.
"Bottom line is Pace was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when we prepared the worst war plan in the last 35 years in this country, and probably one of the two or three worst in our nation's history," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.
Pace's military career began in 1968 as the leader of a rifle platoon in Vietnam, another divisive and unpopular war.
He commanded US troops in Latin America, served as director of the Joint Staff, and was deputy commander of US forces in Somalia during an ill-fated intervention in the early 1990s.
He was named vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff just weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, becoming the first marine in history to hold the post.
Mullen, a surface warfare commander who studied at Harvard Business School, served as commander of US naval forces in Europe and was in charge of NATO operations in the Balkans, Iraq and the Mediterannean.
He became the chief of naval operations in July, 2005.
Gates called him "a very smart strategic thinker."
earlier related report
But his greatest asset may be that until now he has had little to do with the unpopular war in Iraq.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates named Mullen, 60, as his choice for the top military post after concluding that General Peter Pace, the current chairman, would not be confirmed to a second term without a divisive fight in Congress.
He chose Mullen, he said, because the navy chief is "a very smart strategic thinker" who takes a broad view of the military serivices as a whole.
"So as we try to look to the future, in terms of where we need to be five years from now or 10 years from now, I think Admiral Mullen will bring a tremendous perspective," he said.
It is the second time that Gates has moved to place an admiral in a key position with responsibility for overseeing ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Admiral William Fallon, the former US commander in the Pacific, was shifted in March to the US Central Command, replacing US Army General John Abizaid.
Like Fallon, Mullen has had significant operational experience as a naval commander but not in the Middle East.
Unlike Pace, a marine general who was at the center of Pentagon decisionmaking on Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly six years, Mullen was largely removed from it because of the navy's more limited role in either conflict.
"Obviously Gates is willing, perhaps even desirous, of having a non-ground force person as chairman even though we are fighting a ground war, or two ground wars," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institutions.
"It tells you that either he doesn't want to be bogged down exclusively by Iraq and Afghanistan, or he wants some independent eyes to take a broader perspective, and he wants to balance the strength of Petraeus, Odierno, Casey strain in the army," he said.
General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno are the top US commanders in Iraq today. General George Casey previously was the top US commander in Iraq and is now the army chief of staff.
"Maybe he's of the opinion that a navy guy can be more independent as a voice, that he's not going to be as deferential to Petraeus if he disagrees with him," O'Hanlon said.
"Maybe he's of the opinion that we have to avoid obsession with Iraq, that we've got to think about Iran and China, and a navy guy is just more naturally suited to that," he said.
A 1968 graduate of the US Naval Academy, Mullen came up through the navy's surface warfare fleet.
He commanded an oiler, a guided missile destroyer and guided missile cruiser; an aircraft carrier battlegroup; the US Second Fleet; and US naval forces in Europe.
In between assignements he earned a masters degree in operations research at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and attended an advanced management program at Harvard Business School.
He became chief of naval operations in September 2005, after serving as vice chief of naval operations.
"I think within the navy, Admiral Mullen is regarded as a program person, a person who is intensely knowledgeable about programs and about budgets, and therefore manages more rigorously than other officers," said Loren Thompson, director of the Lexington Institute.
Thompson believes Gates looked to Mullen as a problem solver untarnished by Iraq.
"In addition, the navy has a stronger intellectual tradiion than any other service," he said.
"When you get beyond those institutional factors, there is the simple reality that Mullen is a very effective manager," he said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
US War Czar Admits To Doubts Over Iraq Surge
Washington (SPX) Jun 08, 2007
President George W. Bush's new "war czar" admitted Thursday to past misgivings about Bush's surge of US troops into Iraq, as Democrats lacerated White House policy on the blood-soaked country. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, who was nominated by Bush last month to oversee the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Iraqi authorities and other US agencies needed to step up alongside the US military.
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