Monday, June 12, 2006

Are American Troops Heading Home?

(CBS/AP) General George Casey told CBS News that coalition forces in Iraq will probably return home gradually in the months ahead, as long as the Iraqi government and security forces continue to progress.

The top American commander in Iraq would not say whether he will recommend a troop reduction plan during videoconference meetings with President Bush this week.

Mr. Bush has said he makes decisions about troop levels based on recommendations from commanders in Iraq, and Casey said on CBS' Face The Nation he is ready to give the president another update.

"I was waiting until we got a government seated before I gave the president another recommendation so we have some sense of what we've got," Casey told Bob Schieffer.

Iraq's new government is in place, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki taking office last month and appointing key ministers last week.

"I think as long as the Iraqi security forces continue to progress and as long as this national unity government continues to operate that way and move the country forward, I think we're going to be able to see continued gradual reductions of coalition forces over the coming months and into next year," Casey said on Face the Nation.

"There's been a great shift in what's being carried out by Americans over the last year," Casey said. "Today we have two Iraqi divisions, 15 Iraqi brigades and over 60 Iraqi battalions that are in the lead."

The Bush administration plans to re-evaluate its Iraq policy this week with members of the national security team, including Casey and other military commanders.

Mr. Bush also plans to hear from outside experts and top ministers in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new government, participating via video from Baghdad.

One of those Iraqi officials said on Sunday that the majority of coalition forces would leave before mid-2008 and that the number would drop below 100,000 by year's end.

Full Article

Meanwhile on Meet the Press we get a slightly different picture on the time frame for troop reductions in Iraq that being 6 to 12 months:

MR. RUSSERT: But your sense is within the next six to 12 months, we’re going to be pretty much out of Iraq.

GEN. McCAFFREY: Oh no, I don’t think so. I think we’ll start coming out. If Maliki can get this government to operate, if security forces can be better equipped, we’ll see a substantial drawdown, let’s say a third of our combat brigades—we’ve got 17 brigades there now—in the coming 12 months, six to 12 months. And I think we’ve got to do that.
Full Transcript

Essentially what I am gathering is that the main factor that will determine troop reduction rates will be how effective the new Iraqi government will be within the next 6 mos.

Meanwhile W starts a two day strategy session today to plan the future of military operations in post Zarqawi Iraq:

Bush summons war cabinet for post-Zarqawi session

By Matt Spetalnick
Monday, June 12, 2006; 1:17 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush convenes a war council this week hoping to build momentum after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, but the big question overhanging the talks is when U.S. troops will return from Iraq.

Bush will hold two days of high-level consultations at Camp David starting on Monday to reassess strategy on Iraq as he struggles with an increasingly unpopular war that has dragged down his approval ratings in a congressional election year.

Iraq, however, will dominate the agenda at the presidential retreat, where Bush wants his national security team to meet away from their normal daily distractions.

His administration is eager to capitalize on the killing of Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and mastermind of some of the bloodiest bombings since a 2003 U.S.-led invasion, as well as the long-awaited creation of an Iraqi unity government. Full Article

So will there be a significant reduction of troops by Christmas? Maybe. By next summer? My magic 8 ball says yes. All troops out in time for the next presidential elections? All signs point to no.