WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates appeared Thursday to disagree with President Bush and the top U.S. general in Iraq about when the United States will be able to pull more troops out of Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates testifies Thursday during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Gates said he hopes the United States will be able to "reduce our presence further this fall" after a "brief pause" for review after the number of troops drops to about 140,000 in July.
"I do not anticipate this period of review to be an extended one," he said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
That contrasts with an announcement made by the president earlier in the day, and with testimony from Gen. David Petraeus earlier in the week.
Petraeus Tuesday recommended troop withdrawals from Iraq be paused for 45 days after July.
Bush accepted this recommendation Thursday, saying Petraeus will "have all the time he needs."
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's chairman and a Democrat critical of the conduct of the war in Iraq, seized on the differing views.
"What recommendation did President Bush adopt a few hours ago? Gen. Petraeus' open-ended approach or Secretary Gates' brief pause?" he demanded.
"The answer is Gen. Petraeus, since the president said that Gen. Petraeus, quote, 'will have all the time he needs,' and even went so far as to say that, quote, 'Some have suggested that this period of evaluation will be a pause, and that is misleading,' to use the president's words," the senator said.
Despite Gates' professed optimism about further troop withdrawals, he admitted levels will not fall as low as 100,000 by January of next year, as he had hoped last September.
The president also said that "while this war is difficult, it is not endless." Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, echoed that sentiment in Senate testimony alongside Gates.
"It's not a blank check. It's not an open-ended commitment of troops," he said.
And he warned that maintaining troops in Iraq is harming overall U.S. military capabilities, saying he is "deeply concerned" about the situation in Afghanistan, even with the additional 3,500 troops the United States recently sent there.
"The Taliban is growing bolder, suicide attacks are on the rise, and so is the trade in illegal narcotics," he said.
"Requirements exist there that we simply cannot fill and won't likely be able to fill until conditions improve in Iraq."
Gates said the United States needs more troops to hold areas of southern Afghanistan and to train local army and police personnel.
"The principal area of concern has been in the south, and I would say that your characterization of ... not having enough forces to hold areas that we had cleared is an accurate description," he said. "I would also say that, countrywide, one of the shortages is for people to train the Afghan army and police."
Mullen said he needs about 3,000 trainers, but added that "actually, from a fighting, combat standpoint, I'm pretty comfortable this year in Afghanistan." E-mail to a friend
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