The planned summer withdrawal of some of the United States forces in Iraq may need to be delayed as the military pauses for "consolidation and evaluation," the U.S. defence secretary said Monday.
Robert Gates said that after meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, a "brief" pause "probably does make sense."
Petraeus has said he wants a delay in the five brigade troop drawdown to assess how reducing the U.S. military presence will impact Iraq security. One of the five brigades has already departed, with the final scheduled to leave in July.
Um, shouldn't they have had that figured out already when they originated the surge?
Petraeus's strategy is based on the expectation that improved security over time will give Iraqi political leaders an impetus to compromise on legislation and make other moves toward reconciliation.
"In my own thinking, I had been kind of headed in that direction as well," Gates said from Baghdad. "But one of the keys is how long is that period [of pause and evaluation] and then what happens after that."
Troop cuts won't affect teritorial gains: U.S.
Some fear the drawdown could result in giving up some recent security gains while many in the military worry that strains on troops from long and multiple combat tours will grow worse unless the troop reduction continues after July.
Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commander of all U.S. forces in Baghdad, declined to tell reporters how many troops he would lose during the drawdown, saying he believed that information was secret. He said whatever decisions are made regarding the troop cuts, he will make the necessary adjustments to ensure security is not sacrificed.
"We're not going to give back any terrain," he told reporters travelling with Gates.
The defence secretary arrived in Iraq Sunday for a surprise two-day visit, his first to the country this year and possibly his last before Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker make recommendations on further troop reductions in April.
Gates said President George W. Bush would have the final say in the drawdown plan.