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Hillary Clinton asks Pentagon to detail withdrawal of US troops from Iraq

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton hit back Friday at a Pentagon aide who charged that her questions about Iraq withdrawal planning have the effect of helping the enemy - calling the accusation a spurious dodge of a serious issue.

Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president, had asked the Pentagon to detail how it is planning for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. She first raised the issue in May, pointing out that whenever troops leave, it will be no simple task to transport the people, equipment, and vehicles out of Iraq, possibly through hostile territory.

Eric Edelman, the Defense Department's undersecretary for policy, offered a sharply-worded response, saying such discussions boost the enemy.

"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia," Edelman wrote. His tough language in a letter obtained Thursday was surprising in part because it came in correspondence with a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of the Pentagon.

Clinton responded Friday in a letter to Edelman's boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, asking if he agreed with Edelman's charge.

She said Edelman had ducked her questions and "instead made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning."

"Undersecretary Edelman has his priorities backward," Clinton wrote, calling his claim "outrageous and dangerous."

She repeated her request for a briefing - classified if necessary - on the issue of end-of-war planning.

The senator's spokesman Philippe Reines said: "We sent a serious letter to the Secretary of Defense, and unacceptably got a political response back."

As she runs for president, Clinton has ratcheted up her criticism of the Bush administration's war effort, answering critics of her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq invasion by saying she would end the war if elected president.

If she wins, Clinton may find herself overseeing a troop withdrawal policy, but others have also raised the issue, including Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.

Edelman's letter does indicate the Pentagon might be planning how to withdraw, saying: "We are always evaluating and planning for possible contingencies. As you know, it is long-standing departmental policy that operational plans, including contingency plans, are not released outside of the department."

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