President Barack Obama's promise to end the war in Iraq will be on the agenda Wednesday when the new commander in chief meets with top national security aides and senior commanders, officials said.
Obama was summoning his holdover defense secretary, Robert Gates, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to the White House, along with other members of his National Security Council, to discuss a way ahead in the war, according to two senior military officers.
The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House had not publicly announced the meeting.
The war in Afghanistan also was to be discussed, with the commander overseeing both conflicts, Gen. David Petraeus, scheduled to attend.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, were to participate via videoteleconference.
During his campaign, Obama said he intended to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, although it was not clear Tuesday whether he would issue a hard-and-fast order Wednesday to end the war on that specific timeline, or declare his intentions in more general terms.
In his inaugural address, Obama said he would "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan," though he offered no details about his plan for either war.
Iraq invasion becomes long-term mission
U.S. and British troops led the multinational invasion of Iraq in March 2003, an offensive propelled by the Bush Administration's insistence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. The invasion led to the quick defeat of Hussein's government but did not produce the weapons the country allegedly held.
U.S. forces have since tried to quell sectarian violence and insurgent attacks and training Iraqi forces to takeover security while the country cobbled together a new civilian government. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the war, as well as more than 4,000 American troops.
U.S.-led forces have been in Afghanistan since October 2001, an invasion that targeted al-Qaida terrorists harbored by the country's radical Muslim Taliban government. The government fell and a new government selected. However, leaders in Kabul have had difficulty maintaining control outside of the capital city. Kabul is challenged by a resurgence of Taliban and insurgent attacks, as well as a growing opium industry in the country's hinterlands.
Petraeus is in the midst of a broad and deep review of his entire region of responsibility, which encompasses Iraq and the rest of the Middle East as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of Central Asia.
With the inclusion of Petraeus, Odierno and McKiernan, the meeting Wednesday appeared to reflect, at least in part, Gates' preference for offering the president a full range of views — from senior civilians as well as top military commanders — at key junctures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military service chiefs, with whom Obama would be expected to consult at some point, were not expected to attend Wednesday's session.
War crimes trials in limbo
The Obama administration also has vowed to address the fate of prisoners held at a facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, created to imprison terrorist suspects.
On Tuesday, a military judge adjourned the Guantanamo Bay war crimes court just before Obama was sworn in by noting the future of the commissions was in doubt. The hearings were dismissed until Wednesday “unless otherwise ordered.”
Obama has said he will close Guantanamo and many expect he will suspend the widely criticized war-crimes trials created by former President George W. Bush and Congress. Obama’s nominee for attorney general has said the so-called military commissions lack sufficient legal protections for defendants and that they could be tried in the United States