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 Afghanistan.
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 satellite.
"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 communities.