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Top US Military Officer Says Timeline for Iraq Withdrawal Would Be Dangerous

America's top military officer says setting a fixed timeline for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq would be a dangerous move. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says any withdrawal must be based on conditions on the ground.

Admiral Mullen says setting a firm timeline would jeopardize all the progress made so far in Iraq.

"I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard," said Admiral Mullen. "I'm convinced at this point in time that making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important."

During an appearance on the Fox News Sunday television program, Mullen said five American brigades have left Iraq in recent months, as security conditions have improved. And, he said, there is a possibility of a further drawdown before President Bush leaves office in January.

"If conditions continue to improve, I would look to be able to make recommendations to President Bush in the fall to continue those reductions," he said.

The presumptive Democratic Party candidate for U.S. president, Senator Barack Obama, has said he wants to withdraw all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, if he is elected president. Obama is currently on a tour of Europe and the Middle East that includes a stop in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN's Late Edition said the Iraqis want to reach the point where they can take care of their own security needs. She said Baghdad and Washington are not talking about timetables, but are discussing the U.S. role in broader terms.

"The day is coming when American forces will step back more and more from combat roles," said Condoleezza Rice. "The day is coming when we will be doing more in the way of training and less in the way of fighting."

During his appearance on Fox News Sunday, Admiral Mullen also stressed that the situation in Iraq is improving. But he acknowledged conditions in Afghanistan remain worrisome.

He said various extremist and terrorist groups are joining up in the tough terrain of northern Pakistan and are infiltrating across the Afghan border.

"There's a big challenge for all of us, " said Admiral Mullen. "And it has had an impact on our ability to move forward in Afghanistan."

Mullen spoke of mixed progress in Afghanistan, but quickly added that it would be wrong to say the United States and its NATO allies are losing the fight.