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American Forces Press Service

Troop Withdrawals Could Begin Next Year, Casey Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 27, 2005 A "fairly substantial" withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq could take place next spring or summer if the insurgency doesn't grow and the country's political process continues as scheduled, the commander of coalition forces said here today.

U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey, head of Multinational Force Iraq, spoke during a surprise visit to Iraq by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

At a later joint news conference with Rumsfeld, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said the departure of U.S. forces from his country depends on how soon Iraq can train, equip and field its own soldiers and police to take over security duties. "We do not want to be surprised," Jaafari said, if U.S. troops leave before the Iraqis are prepared to assume security.

Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad today after visits to the Central Asian nations of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. He met with senior U.S. and Iraqi military and civilian officials at the International Zone, formerly called the "Green Zone." He first conducted an update meeting with Casey and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.

Casey commented on the potential for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq during a joint news conference with Rumsfeld and new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. The general said the insurgency in Iraq hasn't substantially increased within the past year.

"The insurgents need to progress to survive, and this insurgency is not progressing," Casey said.

Instead of gaining strength, insurgents in Iraq have changed tactics, he explained, to employ "more violent, more visible" attacks on softer civilian targets. That is "a no-win strategy for the insurgents," Casey said. The general noted that U.S. military members continue to train and team up with Iraqi units in conducting sweeps and other security missions.

Khalilzad agreed with Rumsfeld's earlier stated belief that the Iraqi government needs to be more assertive about border issues with countries like Syria and Iran.

"They need to be more aggressive," Khalilzad said, noting the Syrians and the Iranians haven't been very helpful in preventing insurgents from entering Iraq from their side of the border. But Iraq soon will become an important country in the region, Khalilzad said, and likely will remember which countries had been helpful to it at this stage of its history.

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