Gates: U.S. troop levels in Iraq may cut to 100,000
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised the possibility Friday of cutting U.S. troop levels in Iraq to 100,000 by the end of next year, well beyond the cuts approved by President Bush. Stressing that he was expressing a hope, not an administration plan, Gates conveyed it was possible that conditions in Iraq would improve enough to merit much deeper troop cuts than are currently scheduled for 2008.
Asked at a news conference whether he was referring to lowering the present level of nearly 170,000 U.S. troops to about 100,000 by the end of next year, Gates replied, "That would be the math." He quickly added, however, that because "there is no script" in war, his hoped-for cuts could vanish.
According to the AP, Gates used his news conference to launch an attack on efforts by Democrats to force Bush to change course in Iraq by imposing new restrictions on how the Pentagon uses or manages the armed forces. Gates said that while he believed such proposals are well-intentioned, they have serious flaws. He said, for example, that Webb's amendment, if enacted, would force him to consider again extending tours in Iraq.
"We would have to accept gaps in capability as units that rotate home aren't replaced right away for periods perhaps of weeks," Gates said. It also might put troops' lives in greater danger by reducing opportunities for incoming units to get acquainted with their responsibilities by working for a few weeks with outgoing units, he said.
"The other message that I worry that some of the amendments send is that it sends a signal to potential adversaries that we're stretched so thinly and that we are so strained that we cannot adequately respond to crises elsewhere in the world," Gates said. "And that's not a correct view, if others should take it, but it is a worry."