According to a New York Times report published on Monday, senior military officials said the United States could withdraw as many as 37,000 of the 142,000 troops now in Iraq by early next year. But the article also indicates that senior commanders and other officials are reluctant to make any promises until they see what happens with the new Iraqi government, its security forces, and the ongoing insurgency in coming months.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Yoswa, says any withdrawal will depend on those factors, and a variety of others, including how quickly public services progress, such as the electrical and water supplies and the effort to rebuild Iraq's health care system.
"I wouldn't be able to confirm that we're conducting any planning on that line," he said. "What I can say is that as we have stated for a long time, as the secretary has stated multiple times, that any adjustment to force levels is going to be condition-based, rather than any fixed timeline. And at this point, there are no withdrawal plans and there is no withdrawal timeline."
The New York Times report quotes senior U.S. generals in Iraq as offering optimistic assessments of progress in several key areas. The senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, told the Times he expects some "fairly substantial reductions" in the number of U.S. troops in the country by this time next year.
But the newspaper also quotes officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as warning against being too optimistic. The top U.S. air commander in the Persian Gulf region, Lieutenant General Walter Buchanan, is quoted as expressing concern about informants in the new Iraqi government providing information to the insurgents.
Iraq's new president said in recent days that he expects his country to need foreign security help for another two years, but he did not specify troop levels. Neither did the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General John Jumper when he told the Times he thinks some U.S. forces will be needed in Iraq "for a long time."
The Defense Department spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Yoswa says the U.S. military is in a position to continue to provide whatever is needed.
"We have been managing and will continue to manage the size of the force that's there, as deemed [determined] by the commander on the ground," he said. "General Abizaid and General Casey talk to the secretary often and inform him on what they believe they need in the field, and we have continued, and will continue, to provide them the forces, the trained and experienced forces, that we've been providing them."
And the lieutenant colonel acknowledges that everyone involved, the U.S. government, the Iraqi government and the American and Iraqi people, want foreign forces withdrawn from Iraq, and he says that will happen as soon as the situation allows.