U.S. government officials confirmed on Saturday that the leader of U.S. forces in Iraq has submitted an early draft of a plan to withdraw roughly 28,000 combat troops by the end of 2007. But the officials emphasize that the plan is conditional on the security situation on the ground in Iraq.
The total number of forces that could possibly be withdrawn under U.S. Gen. George W. Casey’s plan would be larger than the 28,000 combat forces because as the number of combat troops is reduced, an undetermined number of support elements could also be withdrawn.
As NBC has earlier reported, Casey intends to begin the reduction of combat forces in Iraq by two brigades, or some 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers, beginning in August and September. This would reduce the total number of U.S. military forces in Iraq to approximately 117,000 to 120,000 troops. The reduction would be accomplished by cancelling the deployments of two brigades set to rotate into Iraq later this summer.
U.S. military officials told NBC News that Casey was expected to announce this initial phase of troop reductions last week, but at a news conference Thursday Casey said he would withhold any announcement until he's had an opportunity to consult with the newly-formed Iraqi Unity government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The larger long-term withdrawal was first reported on the New York Times Web site, which described it as "sharp reductions" in U.S. military presence in Iraq by December 2007.
Casey had planned to reduce the number of American forces in Iraq by 30,000 to 40,000 troops by the end of this year, but a worsening security situation forced him to scale back the earlier plans. Military officials tell NBC news that Casey would still like to achieve that goal.
Military official acknowledge that the New York Times' story reflects more of the political reality here at home than the security situation on the ground in Iraq, saying it's impossible to predict with any precision the number of forces that could be withdrawn that far in advance, (the end of 2007). According to one official, "The number (to be withdrawn), could be lower or it could be higher" depending entirely upon the security situation in Iraq at the time.