U.S. President Barack Obama made his first visit to the Pentagon Wednesday as commander-in-chief. He conferred with top officers from all the branches of the armed services about the tough decisions that lie ahead.
The president met the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as the commandant of the Coast Guard and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
They talked about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the impact the two conflicts have had on the men and women of the military.
Their discussion took place behind closed doors. But when he left the meeting room at the end of the session, Mr. Obama walked down a corridor lined with about 100 mid-level enlisted troops.
He paused to shake hands and exchange a few words, before speaking to reporters about the challenges facing the military and potential changes in deployments and policy.
"We are going to have some difficult decisions that we are going to have to make surrounding Iraq and Afghanistan, most immediately. Obviously, our efforts to continue to go after extremist organizations that would do harm to the homeland is uppermost in our minds," he said.
The president did not go into specifics. But has said he wants most U.S. combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months, and intends to build up American force levels in Afghanistan.
On his first full day in office, Mr. Obama conferred with top commanders about the scenarios for a drawdown in Iraq.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that meeting, and the subsequent session at the Pentagon, are part of a process that should yield results relatively soon.
"I think we have got a deliberate process, (and) that the president will be able to receive that information and make some key determinations as we change that mission in Iraq," he said.
Gibbs notes that since the signing of the U.S. Status of Forces agreement with Iraq, a drawdown of American forces has become a certainty. He makes clear the concern now is how best to accomplish that task, without endangering Iraqi security or putting the lives of remaining U.S. troops at risk.
"I think everybody understands with the developments of the past few months in Iraq with the Status of Forces Agreement that puts an end date on our involvement there, we are no longer involved in a debate about whether (to withdraw), but (about) how and when," he said.
Gibbs says President Obama is very aware of the stress the two wars are placing on American troops and their families.
As he left the Pentagon, Mr. Obama said the U.S. military has carried out its mission under enormous pressure. "All of you who are serving in the United States Armed Forces are going to have my full support, and one of my duties as president is going to be to make sure that you have what you need to accomplish your missions," he said.
Mr. Obama said he has every confidence the military will continue to do its
job, and he vowed the government will provide the necessary resources.