The top U.S. military commander says the Pentagon will continue to withdraw five combat brigades from Iraq through July as planned, despite recent violence in Baghdad and Basra. But on Capitol Hill, three retired army generals told a Senate hearing the United States must begin a major troop withdrawal from Iraq when the next president takes office next year. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told reporters Wednesday the recent violence in Basra and Baghdad has not changed U.S. plans on troop levels in Iraq.
"Right now we're still on track for the fifth brigade to come out, the last of the surge brigades to come out, by the end of July and then the period of consolidation and evaluation will take place," he said.
The planned withdrawals will bring the number of U.S. troops in Iraq back down to the level before a surge of U.S. forces last year of about 140,000 troops. The surge was intended to stabilize the security situation and give the Iraqi government the chance to achieve political reconciliation.
Admiral Mullen praised Iraq's government for going after militiamen in Basra, though he said it will take a while to figure out who won and who lost in last week's fighting.
Asked if the high force levels in Iraq are having an impact on other U.S. national security goals, Mullen said Afghanistan immediately comes to mind. "So having forces in Iraq don't -- at the level they are at -- don't allow us to fill the need that we have in Afghanistan," he said.
But retired Army Major General Robert Scales told the Senate Foreign Relations committee a major withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is inevitable, because the U.S. cannot sustain troop levels there and has run out of options. "For the first time since the Civil War, the number of ground soldiers available is determining American policy rather than policy determining how many soldiers we need. It is strategy turned on its head," he said.
Scales said setting a window of withdrawal would boost morale for service members and their families, who feel like they are stuck on a perpetual rollercoaster of deployments.
Retired Lieutenant General William Odom also said that withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq is the only thing that could break the current paralysis of U.S. strategy in the Middle East. "The surge is prolonging instablility, not creating the conditions for unity as the president claims," he said.
The retired generals agreed that a major withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq is likely to happen early in the next U.S. president's administration. They say the U.S. Army is overextended and the American people no longer support the war.