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U.S. troop movement plans still up in air

  • Story Highlights
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. David Petraeus hold closed-door meeting
  • Officials say meeting ended with no consensus on troop plans
  • Discussions deal with pulling troops out of Iraq, beefing up forces in Afghanistan
  • Obama, once in office, is expected to ask for plan on Iraq troop drawdown
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From Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although President-elect Barack Obama will become the next commander-in-chief in just two weeks, several key issues remain to be resolved regarding the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and the buildup of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

A U.S. soldier patrols in a village north of Kabul, Afghanistan, last month.

A U.S. soldier patrols in a village north of Kabul, Afghanistan, last month.

A closed-door meeting Monday at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. David Petraeus -- who is in charge of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- ended with no consensus on troop plans for either country, several top U.S. military officials told CNN.

The officials, who did not want to be identified because the meeting was private, all offered CNN similar accounts of the discussions.

In addition, a review of the Afghanistan war strategy being conducted by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen is also incomplete and has not been approved by the Joint Chiefs. That review, according to one official, will not be finished until the Obama administration is in office.

The Monday meeting was polite, one official said, but also interesting and intense. A second official described the discussion as lively and said it ranged further than originally anticipated.

The session was held in the "tank," a secure meeting room inside the Pentagon reserved for some of the most sensitive and classified conversations by top officials.

It was called to discuss yet again how the drawdown of troops in Iraq could be scheduled so that more troops could be sent to Afghanistan -- an issue that the chiefs have struggled to resolve for months.

According to the officials, a 10-page plan from the U.S. Central Command calls for a very gradual drawdown between now and the end of 2011, when all U.S. troops are supposed to be out of Iraq under the terms of a recent agreement between the two countries.

But Petraeus and other top U.S. commanders in Iraq are reluctant to agree to any specific drawdowns of units more than six months ahead of time because of the uncertain security situation and the upcoming elections in Iraq, according to a second official.

"The real debate is over the timing and risk of drawing down troops in Iraq," the second official said.

That decision is considered a vital first step. Military officials have long said the Pentagon needs to have some assurance of drawdowns over the next year in order to free up enough troops to send more units to Afghanistan, where commanders are asking for up to 30,000 additional troops.

The Marine Corps is continuing to press its position that several thousand Marines could be withdrawn from Iraq in the coming months, with their replacements going to Afghanistan instead.

The current calculation is that the full complement of troops for Afghanistan could not be completely sent until sometime next year or in 2011. Some commanders in Afghanistan say that's too late, given the deteriorating security situation there.

Once in office, Obama is expected to ask commanders to develop a plan for a 16-month drawdown, as he promised during his campaign for the White House. It's not clear if the Joint Chiefs and Petraeus will recommend that there is unacceptable risk in the quicker drawdown option.

The second official also emphasized that even though Washington and Baghdad have agreed that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by 2011, there is a general private understanding by both sides that some U.S. troops could remain there or in neighboring Kuwait to provide help in key areas such as training, securing borders and providing airlift capabilities. Obama has also said he wants a residual force to remain in Iraq.

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