In long-awaited testimony, the commanding general of the war said last winter’s buildup in U.S. troops had met its military objectives “in large measure.”
As a result, he told a congressional hearing and a nationwide television audience, “I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level … by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve.”
Testifying in a military uniform bearing four general’s stars and a chestful of medals, Petraeus said he had already provided his views to the military chain of command.
Rebutting charges that he was merely doing the White House’s bidding, he said firmly, “I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress.”
His testimony came at a politically pivotal moment in the war, with the Democratic-controlled Congress pressing for troop withdrawals and the Bush administration hoping to prevent wholesale Republican defections.
Petraeus said that a unit of about 2,000 Marines will depart Iraq later this month, beginning a drawdown that would be followed in mid-December with the departure of an Army brigade numbering 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers.
After that, another four brigades would be withdrawn by July 2008, he said. That would leave the United States with about 130,000 troops in Iraq, roughly the number last winter when President Bush decided to dispatch additional forces.
Petraeus said a decision about further reductions would be made next March.
While he focused his remarks mostly on military matters, he also noted the failure thus far of the Iraq government to take the actions needed to stabilize the country for the long term.
“Lack of adequate governmental capacity, lingering sectarian mistrust, and various forms of corruption add to Iraq’s challenges,” he said.
Using charts and graphs to illustrate his points, Petraeus conceded that the military gains have been uneven in the months since Bush ordered the buildup last winter.
But he also said that there has been an overall decline in violence and said, “the level of security incidents has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the level of incidents in the past two weeks the lowest since June of 2006.”
Petraeus also said the Iraqi military is slowly gaining competence and gradually “taking on more responsibility for their security.”
He cited Anbar province as an example of Iraqis turning against terrorists, adding, “we are seeing similar actions in other locations as well.”