A senior U.S. military officer is disputing reports in two major U.S. newspapers, which said Friday that the U.S. commander in Iraq may be willing to send several thousands of his troops home by January. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told him the stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post are "not accurate." The officer, who works closely with General Petraeus, says the general told him newspapers should not trust the unnamed officials quoted in those reports in the future, because their information is "off base."
General Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, are to give their highly-anticipated progress reports to the Congress on Monday, including recommendations on future U.S. troop levels. President Bush is expected to announce his decisions based on those reports, perhaps later in the week.
Amid the stir over Friday's newspaper stories, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman offered reporters this advice:
"We should all not try to predict what the general is going to say," he said. "We ought to wait for next week, when he's going to give a very full assessment of where we're at right now, at this point in time, with respect to our operations in Iraq."
A senior defense official also noted that the articles say General Petraeus "could accept" or is willing "to consider" the start of a drawdown of U.S. forces early next year. The official said it is not up to the general to "accept" or "consider." Rather, the official said, the general will make his recommendations to President Bush, and the president will decide the future course of U.S. policy toward Iraq, including troop levels.
During a brief visit to Iraq on Monday, President Bush said General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker told him if current trends continue it will be possible to reduce the U.S. troop level in Iraq, but he did not say when that might happen.
The Petraeus and Crocker reports are just two of several assessments being made public this week and next week. On Thursday, a commission chaired by retired General James Jones reported to the Congress Iraqi security forces still need 12-18 more months to prepare to handle security for the country.
Still, General Jones told Congress his group of retired military and police officers favors a change in the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq as soon as possible, away from daily combat to a support role.
"The force footprint should be adjusted, in our view, to represent an expeditionary capability, and to combat the permanent force image of today's presence," he said.
Pressed by a senator, General Jones said that change could include consolidations, realignments and reductions.
Also this week, the Congress' Government Accountability Office issued a highly critical report, questioning military claims of reduced violence in Iraq following the surge of U.S. forces earlier this year.