U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday endorsed, for the first time, the idea of pausing the withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq this summer.
"A brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense," Gates told reporters after meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Petraeus has indicated in recent weeks that he wants a "period of evaluation" this summer to assess the impact on Iraq security of reducing the U.S. military presence from 20 brigades to 15 brigades.
In his remarks in southern Baghdad, Gates said Petraeus had given him his view on the drawdown, which some fear could result in giving up some of the security gains of recent months. In endorsing Petraeus' suggestion of pausing after July, Gates made it clear that President Bush would have the final say.
In his remarks, Gates also indicated that he had begun some time ago to lean in Petraeus' direction. "In my own thinking I had been kind of headed in that direction as well," Gates said, according to the AP. "But one of the keys is how long is that period (of pause and evaluation) and then what happens after that."
In an interview with reporters traveling with Gates, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commander of all U.S. forces in Baghdad, declined to say how many troops he would be losing during the drawdown, saying he believed that information was secret. But he said that whatever troop-cut decisions are made, he will make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the security gains achieved over the past several months are not sacrificed. "We're not going to give back any terrain," Hammond said.