Defense secretary says he hopes to resume troop withdrawals in fall

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told senators Thursday that he hopes to resume U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq in the fall after the 45-day suspension of force reductions recommended this week by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates expressed his desire to pull out more troops only hours after President Bush announced he was accepting the general's recommendations and ordering the drawdown to stop after July.

"The hope, depending on the conditions on the ground, is to reduce our presence further this fall," Gates said in his opening remarks. "But we must be realistic. The security situation in Iraq remains fragile and can be reversed."

While his comments may have been aimed at critics who have dismissed the pause in troop withdrawals as evidence of an "open-ended" military commitment in Iraq, Gates stopped short of offering a firm commitment to removing additional forces later this year.

Indeed, the secretary said he no longer believes that troop levels in Iraq could drop below 100,000 by January, as he had hoped late last year. He also emphasized that any further troop pullouts this year would reflect military commanders' operational needs.

Gates' testimony capped this week's high-profile hearings on the war, during which Petraeus called for a 45-day period of "consolidation and evaluation" in late July, when the force level is expected to be about 140,000 troops. This waiting period would be followed by an indefinite assessment period to determine if the military can pull more troops out without jeopardizing the security gains in Iraq.

At the White House Thursday, Bush publicly endorsed the commander's approach, saying he will give Petraeus "all the time he needs" -- a statement that brought swift attacks from key Democrats on Capitol Hill.

"Instead of continuous reductions beyond pre-surge levels or even a brief pause, what President Bush did this morning is reinforced our open-ended commitment in Iraq by suspending troop reductions in July for an unlimited period of time," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Responding to the congressional criticisms, Gates urged Levin and other lawmakers not to dismiss the advice of military leaders, who have all endorsed the strategy, so quickly.

"Some have lamented what they believe was an unwillingness to listen to our military professionals at the beginning of this war," Gates said. "I hope that people will now not dismiss as irrelevant the unanimous views of the field commander, CENTCOM [Central Command] commander and joint chiefs."

Also Thursday, Levin criticized the Pentagon for its plans to shift roughly $600 million away from Iraqi Security Forces training and equipment programs into accounts for construction and infrastructure improvements.

Levin has led a growing chorus of lawmakers who want the Iraqi government to take on more of the financial responsibility for the country's reconstruction.

In a letter sent to Gates shortly before the hearing, Levin said that the money transfer ran counter to testimony from Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who told the committee April 8 that the "era of U.S.-funded major infrastructure projects is over."

Gates said he was unaware of the transfer of funds and said he would look into the matter.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.