The White House says next week President Bush
will announce his plans for U.S. troop levels in Iraq for the rest of his time
in office, an announcement that will also affect how many additional troops he
can send to Afghanistan. Officials say senior military officers have recommended
no further Iraq withdrawals this year, and only a small one early next year,
which could make it difficult for commanders to address the increased attacks by
insurgents in Afghanistan. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the
President Bush's long-awaited announcement is
expected next Monday or Tuesday, before Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the
top U.S. military officer Admiral Mike Mullen testify before a congressional
committee on Wednesday. Those men gave their recommendations to the president
two days ago, and officials say they included the views of the top coalition
commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus. They also included the views of the
heads of the U.S. military services, who have been particularly concerned about
the stress on the force caused by multiple deployments to Iraq and
On condition of anonymity, officials have told news
reporters the recommendation is for no further reduction in the 140,000-strong
U.S. contingent in Iraq this year, and for a small reduction of between 3,000
and 5,000 troops in January, just before President Bush leaves office.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino hinted at the go-slow approach
on Friday, saying the president does not want to do anything that could reverse
the security gains made in Iraq during the past year.
"The question in
the president's mind has been, 'How do we make sure that we cement those gains
and not jeopardize those gains?' and be able to continue the process of 'Return
on Success.' He's obviously talking to his national security team and he'll be
consulting with members of congress before we move forward," she said.
American officials have long said they would
like to increase the U.S. and international troop presence in Afghanistan, but
that the United States does not have many troops to send as long as its
commitment in Iraq remains high. So President Bush's expected announcement may
not be good news for the U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, Major General
Jeffrey Schloesser, who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon Friday via
"I'm going to ask for more troops," said General Schloesser.
"I think it's pretty commonly known that I already have. And I'm optimistic that
we'll potentially see them in the coming months."
Officials have said
commanders in Afghanistan want 10,000 more troops, but General Schloesser says
he may only get a couple of thousand, at least in his area. But the general says
it is not an emergency, in spite of the increase of insurgent attacks. He says
allied forces are not losing in eastern Afghanistan, but they are not winning as
quickly as he would like.
"It's a slow win," he said. "I want to make it
into a solid, strong win. It's going to take time no matter what. But I'd like
to do it in a more robust way."
U.S. officials have called the
Afghanistan war an "economy of force" operation, because not enough troops have
been available to send. General Schloesser says that needs to change.
The general says U.S., NATO and Afghan forces face a complex group of
between seven and 11,000 insurgents, who, he says, have increased their attacks
in his sector by 20 to 30 percent this year and are trying to develop what he
called "spectacular" attacks. He plans a winter offensive to try to prevent the
insurgents from bringing in supplies to prepare for next spring's fighting
season, and also an increase in development assistance for local Afghan