The top U.S. military officer says if current trends continue he expects to recommend further U.S. troop reductions in Iraq. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Admiral Mike Mullen says he found more progress on security than he had expected when he visited Iraq last week. And while he would not provide details, he said he could recommend further U.S. troop reductions when the next round of military recommendations go to President Bush in September.
"I will not go so far as to say that progress in Iraq from a military perspective has reached a tipping point, or it is irreversible," said Admiral Mullen. "It has not and it is not. But security is unquestionably and remarkably better. Indeed, if these trends continue, I expect to be able, early in the fall, to be able to recommend to the secretary and the president further troop reductions."
The last of the additional U.S. combat troops sent to Iraq last year as part of the surge of forces are scheduled to be out of the country by next week. That triggers a period of assessment by commanders there, and in Washington, that is expected to culminate in early September with new recommendations on U.S. troop levels.
Commanders have been reluctant to say now what they might recommend in September, so Admiral Mullen's statement came as a surprise to may observers. He said it resulted from what he saw during his recent visit to Iraq.
"I fully expected to find security conditions much improved, and they were," he said. "I did not expect, however, that those conditions would be at such a level that I could walk the Jamilla Market in Sadr City, or visit an outpost in what had recently been one of the most violent neighborhoods in Mosul, or that Iraqi security forces would now have the confidence and the command to take the lead as much as they are."
Admiral Mullen also repeated that he is eager to reduce the U.S. troop commitment to Iraq, if he can do so without risking security gains, in order to make more troops available for Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban and a porous border with Pakistan have led to deterioration of the security situation.