Gates Eyeing Halt to Troop Withdrawals; Siding with Commanders against Pentagon

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 12, 2008 | Go to article overview

Gates Eyeing Halt to Troop Withdrawals; Siding with Commanders against Pentagon


Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, taking sides in a fight that has divided the Pentagon, said in Baghdad yesterday that it "makes sense" to temporarily halt U.S. troop withdrawals this summer, holding U.S. force levels roughly where they were before President Bush's military surge last year.

Mr. Gates' decision, which must be approved by Mr. Bush, was a victory for Iraqi commander Gen. David Petraeus over service chiefs back in Washington who fear the continued deployment in Iraq is straining the military and leaving it unable to meet crises elsewhere.

"I think that the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense," Mr. Gates told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Gen. Petraeus.

"I must say, in my own thinking, I am headed in that direction as well, but one of the keys is how long is that period and what happens after that," he said. "It still has to be determined and decided by the president."

Mr. Gates' remarks drew immediate criticism from the two Democratic presidential candidates, who campaigned yesterday in the region ahead of today's primaries in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

Mr. Gates had earlier expressed hope that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, soon to enter its fifth year, could be cut from the current 157,000 to around 100,000 by the end of the year. Now, with the five "surge" brigades set to depart by July, a strategic pause would keep U.S. forces at around 130,000.

Republican presidential front-runner Sen. John McCain of Arizona has strongly backed the surge, but both Democratic contenders immediately criticized Mr. Gates.

"I strongly disagree with the administration's plans to 'pause' the long-overdue removal of our combat brigades in Iraq," Mr. Obama said yesterday.

"We cannot wage war without end in Iraq while ignoring mounting costs to our troops and their families, our security and our economy."

Mrs. Clinton said she was "very disheartened" by Mr. …

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