President Bush has received the latest in a series of briefings designed to give him the information he needs to make a decision on future U.S. troop levels in Iraq. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports he conferred Wednesday at the Pentagon with America's highest military officers.
The president spent about 90 minutes at the Defense Department with the heads of the four military services. The nation's top officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also took part in the session.
A Pentagon spokesman says the Joint Chiefs of Staff talked about issues that go beyond the war in Iraq. Geoff Morrell says the discussions were "candid and carefully considered."
Morrell says the meeting completes the process of briefing President Bush on all aspects of the Iraq conflict and related issues, with decisions on future policy expected soon
"Secretary Gates believes the president has been given the most up to date assessment of the situation in Iraq, analysis of the impact our involvement there is having on our forces globally and advice on how to proceed from here," he explained. "Armed with all that, the president must now decide the way ahead in Iraq."
On Monday the president heard from Admiral William Fallon, who is the outgoing head of the U.S. Central Command, and from the American Commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus. On Tuesday, he met privately with Defense Secretary Gates.
White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says it is all part of a fairly consistent consultative process between the president and the military.
"He is getting a good appreciation for the range of their views and their current thinking. Obviously they are going to come forward here with a formal set of recommendations the second week of April," he explained. "They are going to have an opportunity to explain their assessment of the situation to the congress. And after that point I think the president will have an opportunity to indicate what decisions he has made."
At issue is just how many American troops will remain in Iraq once the extra forces deployed last year come home. General Pertraeus has indicated he would like to pause once U.S. forces return to pre-surge levels in a few months from now. He has said he would like some time to evaluate the situation before ordering further withdrawals.
President Bush has not publicly committed himself to this course, but has said he plans to follow the recommendations of his commanders on the ground.
There are currently 156,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. That number is expected to drop to 140,000 when the drawdown to pre-surge levels concludes in late July.