NYT: General says most troops home by 2008
Timetable depends on Iraq's ability to control security
A newspaper says Gen. George Casey has plans for massive cuts in troop levels in Iraq.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. commander in charge of coalition forces in Iraq projects large reductions in the 127,000-member American force in Iraq, starting in September and continuing through 2007, according to an online report posted late Saturday.
In the plan proposed by Gen. George Casey at a classified Pentagon briefing, two combat brigades -- about 7,000 troops -- would rotate out of Iraq without being replaced, said The New York Times, quoting unnamed U.S. officials.
The brigades scheduled to be withdrawn are the First Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division and the Third Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, the Times said. The number of brigades would decline from 14 to 12.
Military sources told CNN Thursday that Casey was considering pulling about two brigades out of Iraq -- 6,000 to 10,000 forces -- as part of a gradual reduction of troops, but that was not confirmed at a news conference by him or U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, CNN military analyst, stressed Saturday night, however, that Casey's timetable was not fixed -- it depended on Iraq's progress in being able to handle its own security.
Shepperd said Casey told him in a meeting Thursday that the development of competent Iraqi security forces was progressing faster than expected.
"He was optimistic about several things: the emerging capacity of the Iraqi security forces and also the ability of the new government to gain control of the situation," Shepperd said.
The Times said the pullouts assumed that the insurgency would taper off, and stay contained within Baghdad and nearby provinces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said that his government would assume security responsibility this summer for Muthanna province, located in the south near Kuwait.
The officials told the Times it was anticipated that beyond 2007, the U.S. military would still be responsible for security in Baghdad and the violent Anbar province to the west.
As the number of American forces declined, the number of military bases in Iraq also would decrease.
There were 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in December, when security was tightened for Iraq's parliamentary elections. The baseline for U.S. troop numbers has been about 138,000, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
On Thursday, Rumsfeld told reporters that no troop cuts would be announced until Casey consulted with the Iraqi government.
Rumsfeld denied that day's reports that Casey already was considering specific cuts, and Casey -- who appeared with Rumsfeld at the same news conference -- said he opposed setting a hard timetable for withdrawing forces because that would hurt his flexibility.
The issue of troop reductions has been stridently debated in Congress, where the Senate this week rejected Democratic calls to force troop withdrawals.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution that rejected an "arbitrary" date for withdrawal.
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