US President George W. Bush is to announce plans to withdraw about 8,000 American troops from Iraq by February 2009 and deploy soldiers to Afghanistan, where violence has been surging.
US President George W. Bush was to say Tuesday he will bring home 8,000 of the 144,000 US troops now in Iraq over the coming months, with about half that number out by the time his term ends in January.
"Here is the bottom line: While the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous, we have seized the offensive, and Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight," he was to say in a speech.
At the same time, Bush was to announce at the US National Defense University that he is sending more US soldiers to fight in Afghanistan. The White House released his prepared remarks on Monday.
With the vastly unpopular Iraq war shaping the fight to succeed him, the president said in the speech that the US draw-down is possible only because fragile US and Iraqi gains have a new "degree of durability."
"If the progress in Iraq continues to hold, General (David) Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009," said Bush, whose job approval ratings sit at record lows.
Bush said in the speech that about 3,400 combat support forces will leave Iraq over the next several months; one Marine battalion will come home by November; and one US Army combat brigade will return in February 2009.
"This amounts to about 8,000 additional American troops returning home without replacement," Bush said, five and a half years after ordering the March 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Bush was to tie the limited withdrawal to security gains from the "surge" of roughly 30,000 US troops he ordered to Iraq in January 2007 in a high-stakes bid to wrest the war-torn country from the grips of sectarian violence.
"While the progress in Iraq is still fragile and reversible, General Petraeus and Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker report that there now appears to be a 'degree of durability' to the gains we have made," he said in the speech.
Looking to the upsurge of violence in Afghanistan, Bush was to say that he will seek to duplicate the success of the "surge" by sending a Marine battalion and an Army combat brigade there.
"As we learned in Iraq, the best way to restore the confidence of the people is to restore basic security -- and that requires more troops," he said in the remarks, to be given eight weeks before the November 4 US election.
Bush's preferred successor, Senator John McCain, has pinned his hopes on his early and fervent support of the "surge" that has helped bring down once-overwhelming levels of sectarian violence.
McCain's rival, Democrat Barack Obama, has pledged to begin troop withdrawals immediately if elected, and foresees most combat troops being out of Iraq by late 2010.
Recent polls show two out of three Americans oppose the war and want to see a quick withdrawal, but many view the "surge" as a success story, and Bush has repeatedly said that US politics will not shape his decision.
But the president now faces freshly confident Iraqi leaders who are calling for a precise date for US forces to leave -- the kind of timetable Bush has long described as a recipe for a catastrophic defeat.
The issue has been one of the sticking points in talks between Washington and Baghdad on an accord laying out the rights and responsibilities of US troops after the UN mandate for the occupation lapses in December.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says the deal is all but done, and that it calls for foreign forces to be gone from his war-torn country by 2011.
In the speech, Bush described Pakistan along with Iraq and Afghanistan as a central battleground in the global war on terrorism he declared after the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes on the United States.
"They are all theaters in the same overall struggle," said Bush, who underlined "Pakistan's responsibility" to battle extremists "because every nation has an obligation to govern its own territory and make certain that it does not become a safe haven for terror."
Date created : 2008-09-09