WASHINGTON — Amid all the actual chaos in Iraq and the political chaos in Washington, there is word that the Pentagon, where planning is everything, has drawn up a plan to draw down the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Pentagon and U.S. military officials tell NBC News the plan calls for the substantial withdrawal of more than 60,000 troops from Iraq. The plan was drafted by Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, the two top U.S. commanders of the war.
If Iraqi elections are successful in December and a new parliament seated by January, withdrawal could begin almost immediately. Military officials say it would be an incremental or phased withdrawal — beginning slowly at first, with one or two battalions — up to 2,000 troops at a time.
Entire battalions of soldiers and Marines, now scheduled for duty in Iraq next year, would also be told they don't have to go. Some American troops would be placed on temporary standby in neighboring Kuwait — ready to respond, if needed, to any major outbreaks of violence in Iraq.
In fact, the withdrawal plan relies heavily on the ability of Iraqi forces to take over their own security. But out of 96 Iraqi army battalions today, only one can conduct operations without U.S. military help.
"If you can't leave until the Iraqis are ready to defend themselves, and you don't know how good they are at that, then you don't know when you're leaving," says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute.
And this would be far short of a total withdrawal. It would still leave 90,000-100,000 American troops in Iraq at the end of next year.
"We won't totally come out of Iraq for five years or so, until we are sure that it wont result in a giant civil war upon our withdrawal," says Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. Army general and an NBC News military analyst.
Despite all the political turmoil, Pentagon and congressional sources say many lawmakers already know about this plan. It was briefed recently on Capitol Hill, to Republicans and Democrats alike.
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