The U.S. commanding general of the war in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus told Congress on Monday he envisions the withdrawal of some 30,000 American soldiers by next summer, beginning with a Marine contingent later this month. According to him, last winter's buildup in U.S. troops had met its military objectives "in large measure."
As a result, he told a congressional hearing and a nationwide television audience, "I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level ... by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve."
According to the AP, Petraeus said he had already provided his views to the military chain of command. Rebutting charges that he was merely doing the White House's bidding, he said firmly: "I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress."
Petraeus said that a unit of about 2,000 Marines will depart Iraq later this month, starting a drawdown that would be followed in mid-December with the departure of an Army brigade numbering 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers. After that, another four brigades would be withdrawn by July 2008, he said. T
He said he believes withdrawals could continue even after the 30,000 extra troops go home, but he added that it would be premature to make any further recommendations.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker strongly suggested that the administration's troop buildup had prevented a debacle. Testifying alongside the general, Crocker said 2006 was a "bad year for Iraq. The country came close to unraveling politically, economically and in security terms. 2007 has brought improvement."
Using 13 pages of charts, Petraeus said "the level of security incidents has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the level of incidents in the past two weeks the lowest since June of 2006."
Petraeus also said the Iraqi military is slowly gaining competence and gradually "taking on more responsibility for their security." He cited Anbar province as an example of Iraqis turning against terrorists, adding, "We are seeing similar actions in other locations as well."