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US to cut troops in Iraq, build up in Afghanistan

Latest update : 2008-09-10

President George W. Bush said he would cut US troops strength in Iraq by 8,000 in coming months, and that he would send 4,500 troops to Afghanistan by January, when he leaves the White House.

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush will cut
U.S. force levels in Iraq only modestly over the rest
of his term, pulling 8,000 troops out by February, when his
successor will have taken over as commander in chief.

Bush, an unpopular president managing an unpopular war,
will say on Tuesday that a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq
allows the Pentagon to bring troops home and shift more forces
to Afghanistan, where attacks by Islamist militants have soared
over two years.

"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," Bush plans to say at
the National Defense University, according to his prepared
remarks released on Monday by the White House.

"And if the progress in Iraq continues to hold, Gen.
(David) Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional
reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009."

A cut of 8,000 would leave 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq --
still more than before Bush ordered a "surge" of extra forces
in 2007 and also more than in November 2006, when his
Republicans lost mid-term congressional elections largely due
to voter anger over the war.

Bush's plan follows recommendations from top U.S. defense
officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Petraeus, the
top commander in Iraq.

But any large-scale shift in U.S. forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan will be left to Bush's successor -- either
Republican Sen. John McCain or Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.
Bush will leave office in January 2009 after the Nov. 4

Obama has promised to withdraw combat troops from Iraq
within 16 months and said he would put more resources into
Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts along the Pakistan
border, where U.S. officials say they believe al Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden is hiding.

McCain has steadfastly refused any set timeline for
withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and instead prefers Bush's
policy of removing them based on commanders' recommendations
and security conditions in the war zone.


Bush, in his speech on Tuesday, will point to data showing
violence in Iraq has dropped to levels not seen since 2004.

But he will caution that progress in Iraq, which U.S.-led
forces invaded in March 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein, remains
"fragile and reversible."

Bush's surge strategy, which added about 30,000 troops to
Iraq, has been credited with helping to reduce violence and
pulling Iraq back from the brink of civil war. The surge, when
announced in 2007, was criticized by many Democrats who said
the United States should be pulling out.

About 20,000 of those surge troops have returned home
without replacement, leaving 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Bush will say some 3,400 support troops will leave Iraq
over the coming months, along with a Marine battalion by
November. One of the 15 Army combat brigades will leave in
February, bringing the total to about 8,000 withdrawn, Bush
will say.

But as violence has fallen in Iraq, attacks against U.S.,
NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan have soared. NATO
commanders there have asked for additional forces for years and
say they still need about 12,000 troops.

The United States has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, split
between a NATO-led mission and a separate counterterrorism
mission run by the U.S. military.

Bush will say he plans to shift more troops to Afghanistan,
which U.S.-led coalition forces invaded in October 2001 to
remove the fundamentalist Taliban government in the wake of the
Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants.

"In November, a Marine battalion that was scheduled to
deploy to Iraq will instead deploy to Afghanistan," according
to the speech text. "It will be followed in January by an Army
combat brigade."

Date created : 2008-09-09