Echoing military commanders, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the U.S. could withdraw a significant number of troops from Iraq this year if Iraqi forces are able to assume greater control of the country’s security.
“I think it’s entirely probable that we will see a significant drawdown of American forces over the next year. ... It’s all dependent on events on the ground,” the chief American diplomat said.
Just this past week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declined to predict when U.S. forces would be out of Iraq. President Bush has said that decision would be up to a future U.S. president and a future Iraqi government.
“The level of the forces in Iraq will depend on conditions on the ground and the recommendations of the commanders,” Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. He said he had not yet received a recommendation from Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, on whether or when to reduce the size of the force.
There are now about 133,000 American troops in Iraq. Military officials have expressed hope they can reduce the number below 100,000 by year’s end.
Rice, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” noted that Casey “has talked about a significant reduction of American forces over the next year. And that significant reduction is because Iraqi forces are taking and holding territory now.”
Rumsfeld said last week he did anticipate a drawdown of U.S. troops this year “because we think the government will be formed, it will meet with reasonable acceptance,” and Iraqi security forces will perform well.
The military is carrying out plans announced by Rumsfeld in December to cut troop levels this year by up to 7,000 soldiers by canceling the planned deployment of two Army brigades. Further cuts are being debated.
Military leaders have said a drawdown of U.S. troops cannot be done until Iraqi soldiers display enough mettle to take on insurgents — as well as loyalty to a civilian government that represents Iraq’s major groups: Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds.