IMAGE: Hillary Clinton
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
Presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is being criticized by the Pentagon for her anti-war rhetoric.
updated 7/19/2007 2:55:45 PM ET 2007-07-19T18:55:45

The Pentagon has issued a stinging rebuke to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, arguing that she is boosting enemy propaganda by asking how the U.S. plans to eventually withdraw from Iraq.

Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman wrote a biting reply to questions Clinton raised in May, urging the Pentagon to start planning now for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

A copy of Edelman's response, dated July 16, was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia," Edelman wrote.

He added that "such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks."

Clinton pushes for withdrawal plan
Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has privately and publicly pushed Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace two months ago to begin drafting the plans for what she said will be a complicated withdrawal of troops, trucks and equipment.

"If we're not planning for it, it will be difficult to execute it in a safe and efficacious way," she said then.

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines called the response "at once outrageous and dangerous."

"Redeploying out of Iraq with the same combination of arrogance and incompetence with which the Bush administration deployed our young men and women into Iraq is completely unacceptable, and our troops deserve far better," said Reines, who said military leaders should offer a withdrawal plan rather than "a political plan to attack those who question them."

As she runs for president, the New York senator has ratcheted up her criticism of the Bush administration's war effort, answering critics of her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq invasion by saying she would end the war if elected president.

Edelman's letter does offer a passing indication the Pentagon might, in fact, be planning how to withdraw, saying: "We are always evaluating and planning for possible contingencies. As you know, it is long-standing departmental policy that operational plans, including contingency plans, are not released outside of the department."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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