America's top military leaders say they back President Barack Obama's plan to drawdown U.S. forces in Iraq. They indicated in broadcast interviews they are fairly confident the plan will move forward on schedule.
After extensive consultations with defense officials, the president went before members of the military Friday to announce his plan to end the war in Iraq.
"By August 31st, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," said Mr. Obama.
Roughly two-thirds of the 142,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq will come home. The remainder, 35 to 50,000, will stay behind as a transition force. In time, they too will leave.
"I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011," he said.
That timetable is in keeping with an agreement reached between the United States and Iraq in the last weeks of the Bush administration.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the only holdover from the Bush Cabinet, says President Obama retains the ability as commander-in-chief to modify the withdrawal plan. But during an appearance on the NBC television program Meet the Press
, he appeared confident no changes will be needed.
"I would characterize the likelihood of significant adjustments to this plan as fairly remote," said Gates.
Gates was asked about criticism of the plan from members of the president's Democratic Party, who do not like the idea of a large transitional force in Iraq until 2011.
He stressed their mission will be very different from the combat forces now in place. The defense secretary acknowledged the remaining troops will still face some danger, but far less than today.
"It is a very different kind of mission and the units that will be left there will be characterized differently, they will be called advisory and assistance brigades," he said. "They will not be called combat brigades."
U.S. commanders have indicated they are strongly supportive of the plan. The nation's top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, told the Fox News Sunday
program that he is comfortable with the president's decision.
"Clearly, the conditions are much more positive than they were two years ago," said Mullen. "And the conditions are set for the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, to take over their own country and be responsible for it."
Both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen said they were pleased with the process that led to the withdrawal plan.
Mullen said the president listened extensively to the commanders. And Gates said he thought Mr. Obama was more analytical than his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"He makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue, and if they do not speak out, he calls on them," he said.
Gates said he does not know how long he might be willing to stay at the Pentagon, but admitted it might be a challenge to remain through President Obama's current four-year term in office.