BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Tours of duty for U.S. soldiers in Iraq may be cut from 15 months to 12 if current improvements in security hold up, the U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday.
Gen. David Petraeus, left, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met recently in Baghdad.
Gen. David Petraeus said the move could be announced around the time of his next scheduled report to Congress on the progress of the war, in April.
"I think the Army will be able to make an announcement later this spring," Petraeus told CNN.
"We have had discussions about that, and some time around the time of the testimony, I think that the Army can lay out tour lengths that will be back to what was normal."
Petraeus' comments came the same day that a survey of military officers was published saying the Iraq war has strained U.S. forces to the point where they could not fight another large-scale war. The survey was issued by Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for a New American Security.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered Army deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan extended from a year to 15 months last April, a move aimed at keeping current force levels in the war zones for another year. Watch Petraeus discuss the pace of troop reductions »
But Gen. George Casey, the chief of staff of the Army, told a congressional committee in September that the extended deployments "are not sustainable" and had left the service "out of balance."
Petraeus is expected to remain as the top U.S. officer in Iraq until President Bush leaves office in January 2009 -- almost a two-year tour in a still-fragile country.
The United States is withdrawing five combat brigades dispatched last year to Iraq to pacify the Iraqi capital and its surrounding provinces. That withdrawal is scheduled to be completed in July.
Though the campaign appears to have reduced sectarian warfare in and around Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials say the effort needs to be sustained in coming years in order for those gains to remain.
In an exclusive interview at his Baghdad headquarters, Petraeus told CNN he will wait to make a decision about when to recommend additional troop withdrawals beyond the five brigades until he gets a better understanding of the long-term security situation.
He also said that troop withdrawals essentially would be accomplished by not sending in replacement brigades.
"This is not about not reducing," he said. "It's about the pace and the tempo and size of those reductions over time."
Bush and his Republican allies have successfully beaten back efforts by the Democratic leadership in Congress to wind down the war, which is widely unpopular at home.
While violence has dropped in many areas and new armored vehicles have arrived to better protect American troops, any further withdrawals will depend on the situation on the ground, Petraeus reiterated. E-mail to a friend
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