British Memo: U.S. Hopes to Cut Force in Iraq in Half by Early 2006
The press have uncovered a secret British memo outlining a substantial withdrawal of British and American troops from Iraq by early next year. Government officials do not deny the memo’s authenticity but say it is only for planning purposes, not an indication of a definitive policy decision.
The United States and Britain are drawing up plans to withdraw the majority of their troops from Iraq by the middle of next year, according to a secret memo written for British Prime Minister Tony Blair by Defense Secretary John Reid. The paper, which is marked “Secret — UK Eyes Only,” said “emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,” allowing a reduction in overall U.S.-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. The current troop level is about 160,000.
Reid on Sunday did not dispute the authenticity of the document, but said that no decision on troop levels had been made. In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said officials there had not seen the document.
The undated memo, which was reported Sunday in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday, stated that “current U.S. political military thinking is still evolving. But there is a strong U.S. military desire for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall U.S. commitment levels.”
While top U.S. military commanders and Pentagon officials have been hoping to reduce troop levels in Iraq for some time, the British memo is apparently the first time such a significant reduction has been outlined under a specific timetable. President Bush has refused to set a withdrawal date amid military concerns that such a deadline would allow insurgents to wait out the U.S.-led occupation.
The memo notes a debate between U.S. officials at the Pentagon and military leaders in Iraq, saying that officials in Washington favor “a relatively bold reduction in force numbers,” differing with battlefield commanders, “whose approach is more cautious.” There are more than 135,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq.
I was certainly surprised if Coalition military leaders weren’t planning for various contingencies. One hopes that a drawdown of that magnitude will be possible once a permanent constitution is ratified and a government elected. One presumes, too, that the Bush and Blair governments would really like that as well. I can’t imagine, though, that they plan to drawn forces down to a level that would be difficult to defend unless the conditions on the ground make that feasible. I am naturally quite skeptical that will be the case within nine months.