IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Questions and answers on U.S. troops in Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

Everything from Iraqi politics to an increase in rocket attacks to the state of Iraq's security forces will be gone over this week as Congress reviews progress in the five-year-old war.

But the bottom line for many will be exactly what it all means for U.S. forces.

Here are some questions and answers on how America's strained military might be affected by the latest progress report from the nation's top officials in Iraq, commanding Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Q: Will more U.S. troops come home this year?

A: Petraeus is not expected to commit to any further reduction right now. Troop levels are to fall to about 140,000 in July as part of a previously planned drawdown of the extra five combat brigades President Bush ordered to Iraq at the height of violence last year. That means the number of brigades will go back to 15 from 20. After that, Petraeus wants time to see how security is faring with fewer troops — and Bush has already said he's willing to give the general that time. Officials are not ruling out the possibility of continuing to reduce troops levels later in the year after pausing for an assessment of as much as two months, but that would depend on whether conditions in Iraq are stable.

Q: How is security in Iraq now?

A: Violence declined significantly last year as the additional troops launched more operations, some Sunni insurgents rejected al-Qaida and allied themselves with the U.S., and anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his militants into a cease-fire. But Petraeus has said all along that the improvement was fragile. And, indeed, violence has been on the rise again in the early months of this year.

Q: Can newly trained Iraqi forces handle those security problems?

A: The coalition says it has now trained roughly 425,000 Iraqi military, police and other security forces and that those forces are improving. But the Iraqis still for the most part do not operate without U.S. help. A sobering test of their abilities took place in recent weeks when an Iraqi-planned offensive in Basra failed in its stated goal of routing warring Shiite militants from the southern city, with some forces refusing to fight or deserting their posts.

Q: If U.S. troop levels stay the same after July and so much more needs to be done in Iraq, how can the military afford to shorten tour lengths for troops as it has hoped?

A: Many military officials believe they must cut the 15-month tours back down to 12. The extended tours — which have been very unpopular with soldiers — were approved a year ago by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as the best way to come up with the extra people needed for Bush's buildup. Now that most of the buildup is ending in July, officials are eager to do away with 15-month deployments, which have been widely blamed for hurting troop mental health, straining military families and discouraging new recruits from joining the military.