Military Planners, in Nod to Obama, Are Preparing for a Faster Iraq Withdrawal
WASHINGTON - Military commanders are drawing up plans for a faster withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in anticipation that President-elect Barack Obama will reject current proposals as too slow, Pentagon and military officials said Wednesday.
The new plans would provide alternatives to a timetable drawn up by the top American commanders for Iraq to bring troops home more slowly than Mr. Obama promised during his presidential campaign. Those plans were described to Mr. Obama last month.
The officials said that Mr. Obama had not requested the new plans, but that they were being prepared in response to public statements from the president-elect and on the basis of conversations between military officials and members of Mr. Obama's transition team.
Mr. Obama met last week in Washington with his national security team, including Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A drawdown in Iraq is seen as a prerequisite to any significant American military buildup in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama is ready to add up to 30,000 troops over the next two years, a near doubling of the current American force there of about 31,000.
The broad outlines of the military plan for Iraq presented to Mr. Obama in December envisioned withdrawing two brigades, or some 7,000 to 8,000 troops, over the next six months, officials said.
American military officials have declined to be more specific about other details in that plan, by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commanders responsible for Iraq. But they have made clear that the plan does not set forth as fast a withdrawal as Mr. Obama pledged during the presidential campaign, when he repeatedly promised to have all combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of his taking office, or by May 2010.
Officials with Mr. Obama's transition team say he remains committed to that goal, although he has also said he will listen to the recommendations of his commanders. In an interview on Wednesday, Joseph R. Biden Jr., the vice president-elect, said he was "not prepared to talk about" new troop-level options.
Brooke Anderson, the national security spokeswoman for the Obama transition team, said, "We have had briefings from the Bush administration, including Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, about current plans for Iraq and Afghanistan, and we appreciate the information that has been shared." Ms. Anderson said that as president Mr. Obama would meet with his commanders "to make a determination to how we move forward to safely redeploy our combat brigades in 16 months."
Senior military officers say they have anticipated that Mr. Obama will seek speedier options for Iraq troop withdrawals. But they have also expressed uneasiness about a quick withdrawal from Iraq and are unclear at this point about Mr. Obama's overall strategy in Afghanistan.
"It is more than a question of how fast and how low; it includes calculating how much risk you are willing to take in Iraq," one senior military officer said of the discussions over a withdrawal.
The official, who asked not to be identified because of the delicacy of discussing war planning before the new commander in chief takes office, said the planning also required defining the future mission for American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and goals for where those missions should be in years to come.
"Various options are being drawn up to give the new president choices," said another senior military officer involved in the process.
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Mr. Gates intended to make sure that Mr. Obama, once he is commander in chief, gets to hear directly from all of the senior military officers with a stake in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions before making any decisions.
"The discussions the secretary and the chairman have had with the president-elect and his team have thus far been very broad," Mr. Morrell said. "They will not begin the process of presenting the president-elect with specific options for a way ahead in Iraq until after the inauguration."
The current military plan for Iraq was drawn up to meet the recent status-of-forces agreement between the United States and the Iraqi government that calls for both shorter and longer timetables than Mr. Obama's campaign promise. Under that agreement, all United States combat troops are to be out of Iraqi cities by June and all American forces are to be out of Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. That agreement, however, can be renegotiated.
Even as Mr. Obama prepares for the drawdown in Iraq, some influential Democrats and national security experts have begun voicing concern about his willingness to send up to 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan, where the United States has been at war for more than seven years. They say that Mr. Obama has yet to make clear his overall goals beyond calling for more forces, money and diplomacy in an increasingly violent, ungovernable country that the military says presents even more problems than Iraq.
Peter Baker contributed reporting.