WASHINGTON, July 7 – The United States may significantly cut its military presence in Iraq next year regardless of who is elected president in November because of improving security in the country, USA Today reported Monday.,
Citing military experts and recent official statements, the newspaper said, however, that US commanders remained cautious about predicting further withdrawals.
"I believe the momentum we have is not reversible," said Jack Keane, a retired Army vice chief of staff who helped develop the Iraq "surge" strategy adopted by President George W. Bush in January 2007.
There will be "significant reductions in 2009 whoever becomes president," he is quoted as predicting.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki echoed Keane’s optimism Saturday by declaring that "we defeated" the terrorists in Iraq, the report said.
But US commanders remain cautious, USA Today pointed out. Army Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the second-ranking US commander in Iraq, said recently that "our progress is fragile, and we continue to work to make this progress irreversible."
Meanwhile, violence in Afghanistan is growing, increasing pressure to shift more troops from Iraq to there, the paper said.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said he wanted to send more US troops to Afghanistan, but he did not want to sacrifice gains in Iraq by shifting troops too soon, USA Today noted.
Four of the five extra brigades sent to Iraq last year have already left the country, the report said. The last unit is preparing to leave this month.
Even after five combat brigades leave, about 140,000 US troops will remain in Iraq, according to the report.