Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he
does not expect a swift pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq regardless of the
conclusions of a planned September evaluation of the ongoing build-up of U.S.
forces in the country. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, Gates spoke with reporters
hours after telling U.S. senators that the United States could potentially begin
withdrawing troops from Iraq later in the year.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, Secretary
Gates said that if the security situation in Iraq improves and progress is
achieved, a reduction in U.S. forces could be considered. He was quick to warn,
however, of dire consequences for Iraq and the United States if a withdrawal
were to take place in his words "with Iraq in chaos."
Later, at a Pentagon news briefing with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, General Peter Pace, Gates expanded upon his earlier statements with
regard to an upcoming evaluation of the current troop surge in Iraq.
"I suspect that whatever the evaluation in September [concludes, it] will not
lead to precipitous decisions or actions, but would point us in a new direction
- either because the surge is working, or because the evaluation is that it is
not [working]," he said.
In fact, General Pace said the Pentagon has no contingency plan for bringing
all U.S. forces home at once.
As the two men spoke, members of the Democratic-led House of Representatives
were crafting legislation to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through July,
when Congress would have the option of cutting off money if conditions in Iraq
do not improve.
President Bush has signaled he would veto any short term funding bill, just
as he vetoed an earlier bill that contained a timeline for a troop pullout from
Asked what he hopes will emerge from the legislature, Gates said he would
like to see broad bipartisan agreement on two points.
"That it is important to defend this country on the extremists' ten yard line
[close to their home] and not on our 10-yard line [close to the United States],"
he said. "The other part of it is that, assuming that we have some kind of
long-term strategic agreement with the Iraqi government that acknowledges their
sovereignty and so on, but still provides the assistance of some level of U.S.
troops in Iraq for a protracted period of time."
Gates said that even after the bulk of U.S. forces have left Iraq, the United
States will have to provide some sort of "stabilizing presence" for the country
in whatever form is deemed appropriate at that time.
Turning to Iran's influence in Iraq, General Pace noted an increase in
explosive weaponry being deployed against U.S. forces and said that, to the best
of his knowledge, such armaments are all coming from Iran. But he added that it
is not possible to pinpoint exactly who within Iran is providing the explosives,
and cautioned against jumping to any conclusions beyond the known facts.