- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2008

Troop pullout plans

Defense officials say the Pentagon is quietly planning large-scale troop withdrawals from Iraq and could use Turkey, which thwarted some U.S. invasion plans in 2003, for bringing some forces out.

The timing of the troop withdrawal will depend on who is elected president in November. Expected Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama has said he will immediately begin removing troops from Iraq if elected. Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has said under his administration most U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by 2013 and that the timing is less important.

The pullback is expected to take months and cost tens of millions of dollars, and the Turks would be the beneficiary of some of the money if forces go through U.S. or Turkish bases there on their way out, the officials said.

That prospect has drawn the ire of conservatives in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. One senior Capitol Hill national security official said he was astounded to hear of the Pentagon planning because of the Ankara government’s refusal to allow U.S. forces to enter Iraq through Turkey during the 2003 invasion. “It’s like Charlie Brown getting the football pulled away by Lucy,” the official said of planning to use Turkey for the future withdrawal.

As a result, Turkey should be off-limits for troop withdrawals because the loss of the northern invasion route that is widely viewed as a key reason for the ongoing post-invasion insurgency that upped U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said he is not aware of plans to withdraw troops through Turkey, although some forces were pulled back through Incirlik Air Base in 2004.

Port facilities and logistics elements in Kuwait, where U.S. forces were withdrawn after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, make it the likely main base for future troop withdrawals, Mr. Morrell said. “That’s how I imagine we would bring the majority of forces out when the time comes,” he said.

Mr. Morrell noted, however, that the U.S. relationship with Turkey “progressed far beyond what it was in 2003.”

Some 33,000 troops will be deployed in Iraq in early 2009, the Pentagon announced this week, to replace troops currently serving in the country.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, is expected to make a recommendation in September on whether the drawdown of troops will continue after the post-surge level of between 130,000 and 140,000 troops is reached in the end of this month.

Chairman on Fourth

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed an all-force message to American troops around the world Wednesday that is being sent to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to mark the annual Fourth of July celebration this Friday.

“Al Qaeda has been beaten back in Iraq, but it is not defeated,” Adm. Mullen stated in his Independence Day message. “Extremists of all kinds all over the world still plot against us, our fellow citizens and our allies and friends,” noting that those serving in the armed forces and their families “know this danger well.”

“You live with it - defend against it - every day,” he said. “You have been touched by it in one way or another for each of the past six years, some irrevocably so. And yet still you serve. Still you sacrifice. Still you carry on.”

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