US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday dangled the prospect of a faster withdrawal of US troops as he urged Iraq's Arab and Kurdish leaders to settle their feuds.
Gates told reporters after a two-day visit to Iraq that there was "at least some chance for a modest acceleration" of plans for the drawdown of American troops this year.
Citing his talks with the top US commander in Iraq, he said a stepped up withdrawal was possible "because of the way General (Ray) Odierno sees the way things going" amid declining violence and increasingly capable Iraqi security forces, reports AFP.
According to Atlantic Online, some 5,000 American troops could come home because violence levels in the country were generally down and Iraqi security forces were doing well on their own. Two brigades, or about 10,000 troops, are to be withdrawn from Iraq by this year and Gates said it was possible one more brigade, or 5,000 troops, could come home, too.
What's amazing is how little this orderly withdrawal seems to be benefiting the Obama administration. Of course, with an economy still in turmoil and a renewed commitment to Afghanistan and a push for universal health care, the fate of 5,000 troops coming home early is bound to get lost in the shuffle. Still, this is a case where the administration is doing what it said it would do and it's all going pretty well--not withstanding the spasms of violence that continue to plague Iraq.
Gates said the original plan was to go from 14 to 12 brigade combat teams by January 1, but he said it is possible that maybe one more of the teams could be withdrawn. There are generally 2,500 to 3,000 troops in a brigade combat team.
He said such a move depends on how the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, assesses the environment for such a move. And it could possibly come before Iraq's parliamentary elections on January 16, reports CNN.