- 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Port facilities and logistics elements in Kuwait, where U.S. forces were withdrawn after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, make it the likely main base for future troop withdrawals, Mr.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.”

“Americans everywhere will celebrate this Fourth of July with fireworks and parades, but they will do so grateful for that service and sacrifice,” Adm. Mullen said. “They will do so knowing that in a very real sense, you are observing the holiday in perhaps the truest and most noble manner, by laboring to keep alive our independence for one more year.”

The chairman and the chiefs of staff share that gratitude and salute all the troops, he said. “Thank you for your service - and that of your families - at this critical time. Thank you for the gift of our freedom.”

Pentagon departure

Ryan Henry, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, is leaving the Pentagon after some five years.

“It’s been a great experience,” Mr. Henry said in an interview, noting that he is the second-longest serving Senate-confirmed political appointee in the Pentagon for the Bush administration. “We’ve accomplished many things.”

Mr. Henry said he had planned to leave two years ago and even sooner but was asked by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to stay on through the summer.

“The reason I’m leaving is that Secretary Gates is doing such an effective job… that it’s not critical that folks like I stick around,” he said. “I feel I’ve served the country and I’m leaving capable people behind. I don’t feel I’m a critical cog on the wheel, and I have a personal and professional life to get on with.”

Mr. Henry in the past came under fire from critics in the Pentagon and other parts of the administration who said he was ill-suited for the position and made policy-making more difficult through a reorganization that was poorly planned and carried out.

A State Department official was critical of Mr. Henry for placing strategic nuclear weapons and missile defense policy-making within the office that handles special operations and low-intensity conflict policies.

Mr. Henry defended the reorganization as “beneficial” to resource management and dismissed critics as “single-issue advocates.”

Military and civilian officials said Mr. Henry is under investigation by the Pentagon inspector general over travel-related issues, although his leaving was planned before any inquiry was under way.

Mr. Henry said the inspector general frequently conducts such inquiries and most are without foundation. He said he is not aware of any specific allegations being pursued by the IG.

POWs in North Korea

Prisoner of war/missing in action activists are upset that the Bush administration rewarded North Korea by removing the communist regime as a state sponsor of terrorism without first getting a complete and full accounting of U.S. POWs and MIAs left behind there during the Korean War.

“I am very upset,” said Irene Mandra, president of the Korea-Cold War Families of the Missing, whose brother Sgt. Philip V. Mandra is missing from the Korean War. “The president is asking North Korea to account for abductees from Japan but is not asking for the same for American prisoners of war. He ought to be ashamed of himself.”

Mark Sauter, a long-time researcher on the POW-MIA issue, criticized the Pentagon for missing an opportunity to resolve the fate of at least 55 American soldiers known to be alive in North Korea at the end of the war but who never came back.

Air Force Col. David Ellis, principle director of the Pentagon’s POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, stated in a June 19 letter to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, that the issue of missing American POWs and the six-party nuclear talks with North Korea was “not in the purview of my office.”

Mr. Sauter said he and others met prior to last week’s delisting of North Korea to try and get the Pentagon to pressure North Korea into making a full accounting of missing Americans before the U.S. diplomatic action but were rebuffed.

The focus of U.S.-North Korea cooperation for nearly a decade, Mr. Sauter said, has been on the recovery of remains and not on forcing Pyongyang to come clean on the missing servicemen, despite continuing intelligence and defector reports that Americans were left behind.

Pentagon officials have said they have asked North Korea to account for the missing Americans during the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

However, the activists were upset that President Bush promised to press the North Koreans on the Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, but made no public comment on resolving the fate of American POWs.

Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at InsidetheRing@washingtontimes.com.