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Commanders expected to recommend Iraq pullout pause

  • Story Highlights
  • Officials: Petraeus needs to evaluate the impact of the withdrawal of "surge" troops
  • Petraeus will be reluctant to publicly put a timeline on the pause, official says
  • It is still up to the president to make the final decision
  • The final recommendations are expected to be announced in April
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From Barbara Starr
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senior U.S. military officials are preparing to recommend to President Bush a four- to six-week pause in additional troop withdrawals from Iraq after the last of the "surge" brigades leaves in July, CNN has learned.

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Gen. David Petraeus speaks to CNN's Kyra Phillips on Wednesday in Baghdad, Iraq.

Several U.S. military officials said this is the most likely recommendation that Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. William Fallon will make to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday morning -- and then make to Bush on Monday.

The officials were familiar with the recommendations but not authorized to speak on the record.

The key issue is how long Petraeus may feel he needs to evaluate the impact of the "surge" troops' withdrawal before he is ready to recommend more reductions.

Military commanders would want to see at least six weeks of data on violence and attack trends after July to decide if more reductions could be made, two officials told CNN.

Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the war zone, heads the Multi-National Force - Iraq; Fallon is the outgoing head of U.S. Central Command.

Officials confirmed there have been extensive internal discussions in the military about the pause option.

The return of all five brigades added to the Iraq contingent last year could reduce troop levels by up to 30,000, but still leave approximately 130,000 or more troops in Iraq. Video Watch Petraeus talk about drawing down "surge" troops »

Next Wednesday, Bush will go to the Pentagon to be briefed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by Adm. Michael Mullen.

All the officials CNN spoke with emphasized that it is still up to the president to make the final decision, which could be different.

An official familiar with Petraeus' thinking warned that he will be reluctant to publicly put a timeline on the pause because of the president's emphasis that withdrawals not be tied to a deadline, but only to conditions in Iraq.

The final recommendations are expected to be made public when Petraeus testifies before Congress on April 8 and 9.

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As part of the overall assessment, the Army is expected to recommend to the president that the current 15-month tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan be cut back to 12 months beginning this summer.

The Army has determined it can carry out 12-month tours so long as no more than 15 brigades are deployed in Iraq and two in Afghanistan -- which is what would be in place after the surge ends in July. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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