Gates offers hope of troop reduction in Iraq by fall

May 10, 2007|By Julian E. Barnes | Julian E. Barnes,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that if the current U.S. military strategy shows signs of success by autumn, the Pentagon might be able to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Iraq.

In testimony before the Senate, Gates acknowledged that his position apparently contradicted comments by the No. 2 military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who has recommended that the troop buildup continue into 2008.

The point of the new strategy, Gates said, was to reduce violence to jump-start political progress in the Iraqi government and allow the U.S. to begin to cut its forces.

"I think if we see some very positive progress and it looks like things are headed in the right direction, then that's the point at which I think we can begin to consider reducing some of these forces," he said.

Gates opposed suggestions that the troop buildup be extended into 2008, saying a review in September would help determine future steps. Throughout his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense subcommittee, he sounded a bipartisan tone.

Questioned by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, he said: "My view would be that it's very likely the United States will be required to have some level of troop presence in Iraq for some period of time. But it has to be at a level, in my view, that can attract bipartisan support."

At a later news conference, he indicated that the eventual U.S. troop level could be as low as 25,000 and said he would like to see a bipartisan accord similar to one on Soviet containment that existed during the Cold War.

Gates said he believed there could be broad agreement on two points: the necessity of defending the U.S. overseas and the need to keep a small number of troops in Iraq to preserve stability.

In his Senate testimony, Gates repeatedly emphasized that the planned evaluation of the Bush administration's new strategy in September was not "preordained."

The U.S. military will not be able to eliminate violence, Gates said, but can reduce violence to enable the Iraqi political process to work. He said the Iraqis have lived up to their commitment to provide a share of the forces, but the security picture remains mixed.

Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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