US Officials: Troops To Leave Iraq In 18 Months

President Barack Obama is expected to order all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by August of next year, administration officials said, closing the door on a war that has led to the death of 4,250 American soldiers.

The pullout recommended by Obama's security advisers would free up troops and resources for the war in Afghanistan, where Obama has said the threat to national security is acute. The Iraq withdrawal would be completed 18 months from now.

"We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war," Obama said in his address to Congress on Tuesday.

An announcement could come as early as this week, a senior White House official said Tuesday, adding that Obama has not yet approved the final details. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement was not yet planned, said Obama could discuss Iraq during a trip to North Carolina on Friday.

Obama built enormous grass-roots support for his White House bid by promising a quick end to the unpopular Iraq war. His 16-month withdrawal plan, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, had been predicated on commanders determining that it would not endanger U.S. troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.

Officials said that upon entering the White House, Obama requested a range of options from his top military advisers, asking for plans ranging between 16 to 23 months.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently forwarded three withdrawal alternatives for Obama's consideration — 16, 19 and 23 months, the longest an alternative preferred by Iraqi officials and some of Obama's Iraq-based generals. The 19-month plan, which was selected, was pegged to his January inauguration.

Other senior military officials were more sanguine about a quicker pullout. Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who just left his job overseeing U.S. operations in Anbar Province, said Tuesday that violence there has dropped to an almost "meaningless" level over the past year. Kelly told reporters Tuesday most U.S. forces in Anbar could have pulled out months ago.

The emerging plan now leaves Obama two months off his campaign pledge, and with between 30,000 and 50,000 troops still in Iraq to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests.

The residual force would include intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials and a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

The complete withdrawal of American forces will take place by December 2011, the period by which the U.S. agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.

About 142,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, roughly 14 brigades, about 11,000 more than the total in Iraq when President George W. Bush announced in January 2007 that he would "surge" the force to put down the insurgency. He sent an additional 21,000 combat troops to Baghdad and Anbar province.

Although the number of combat brigades has dropped from 20 to 14, the U.S. has increased the number of logistical and other support troops. A brigade is usually about 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

Congress has approved more than $657 billion so far for the Iraq war, according to a report last year from the Congressional Research Service.

As the Obama White House prepared to address the Iraq pullout, the man Obama defeated for the White House challenged suggestions by administration officials that the United States should lower its expectations in Afghanistan.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., insisted in remarks prepared for a speech Wednesday that Afghanistan could be turned around with sufficient resources.

In a speech planned at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, McCain said the United States should brace itself for violence in Afghanistan that worsens before it gets better.

McCain said that while "some suggest it is time to scale back our ambitions in Afghanistan," the U.S. should start spending more on development to keep Afghans from being seduced by the Taliban.

But McCain also echoed recent cautions from Obama, Gates and Mullen that the Afghan conflict would be hard going in the coming months.

"The scale of resources required to prevail will be enormous, and the timetable will be measured in years, not months," said McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A recent classified Pentagon report urged Obama to shift the military strategy in Afghanistan to de-emphasize democracy-building and concentrate more on targeting Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries inside Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani military forces.

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  • by Enough Already on Feb 26, 2009 at 08:29 PM
    To "To Wolfgang"- We have already had one generation of veterans feeling sorry for themselves because they didn't get a parade. Don't become the second.
  • by Rob Location: NC on Feb 26, 2009 at 08:24 PM
    To the apparant Wolfgang hater- Wrap yourself in the flag, go swill Budweiser at the VFW, have a flashback or two, and relax. I know that we are supposed to bow and genuflect to you so-called "heroes", but you knew the risks going in, my friend. Don't jump on someone else's case just they have an opinion different than yours.
  • by VBush Location: MHCY on Feb 25, 2009 at 05:21 PM
    Obama Snake Oil; That is what I was thinking. Nothing much else to add.:)
  • by Cactus Location: Strabane on Feb 25, 2009 at 04:03 PM
    Satan, if you think peace can be forged with al-Qaida you know very little about their past history or their present history. Seems that most of Iraq could care less that we are there, and I could care less about the people of Iraq. I don't think we will ever convince them to have a democracy, as soon as we pull out it will revert back to Islamic law.
  • by Cindy Location: Washington,NC on Feb 25, 2009 at 11:48 AM
    Obama Holiday Proposed .An Obama holiday has been proposed in Congress For 12/26/2009. Christmas Eve 12/24. Christmas 12/25 The Great Obama Day 12/26. Praise Obama, He's here for the people. I thought Biden was going to fall asleep last night. He's heard it all before. Obams Holiday your kidding. Yes,but it's on it's way
  • by ACE on Feb 25, 2009 at 09:43 AM
    To Wolfgang Location: Beaufort on Feb 25, 2009 at 11:47 AM, I agree with you 100%. Obama said if he was elected he would take the troops out of Iraq and deploy more troops to Afghanistan to get eliminate Bin Laden. I don't know you but thank you for your service and God bless you and yours.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 25, 2009 at 09:31 AM
    To Wolfgang Location: Beaufort on Feb 25, 2009 at 11:47 AM, I agree with 100%, Obama said while campaigning that he would take troops out of Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan, at no time did he ever say he would withdraw
  • by Taylor Location: Washington,NC on Feb 25, 2009 at 09:03 AM
    Iran is building the A Bomb as I write this comment. If Obama won't defend us we have to defend ourselves.
  • by To Wolfgang Location: Beaufort on Feb 25, 2009 at 08:47 AM
    Besides running your mouth, which you are very good at, why don't you enlist, pick up a weapon,and support what is going on here. I spent my 15 months chewing sand in Anbar Provivnce (FYI..We lost more troops there, than in any other region of Iraq. Google Ramadi, Anbar, Corregidor). I am glad for my fellow brothers and sister warriors.We have done all we can for the Iraqi people. Now, the time has come to find Bin Laden, and he WILL be found in the same way Saddam was (hiding in a hole like a little kid). Stand behind our forces, or stand in front.Never forget 9/11. If you dislike this great nation, as much as you say you are sick of everything, there is always Canada. I am sure you would complain anywhere you went.
  • by Satan on Feb 25, 2009 at 08:29 AM
    So, we're back on schedule, how exciting. I hope he gets to sit down with Al-qaeda leaders and make peace soon. He should sit down and just talk to everyone.
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