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American Forces Press Service

Leaders Say Timetable for Troops to Return Home Would Be Mistake

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2005 – Setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal in Iraq would be a mistake, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee here today.

"Some in Congress have suggested that deadlines be set," Rumsfeld said. "That would be a mistake; it would throw a lifeline to terrorists. Timing in war is never predictable -- there are no guarantees. And any who say that we've lost this war or that we are losing this war are wrong. We are not."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, echoed the secretary's point. "While we are all eager to see our troops come home, leaving before the task is complete would be catastrophic -- not only for Iraq, but also for the overall struggle against violent extremism and for our national security," the general said.

Rumsfeld emphasized that any troop withdrawal can't rely on an arbitrary timetable set up without regard for the situation in the country. "The timing must be conditions-based," he said.

In Iraq, he said, those conditions are based on the extent to which various ethnic factions reconcile; the level of support from the international community; and Iraq's neighbors, whose behavior, he said, "continues to be unhelpful."

He said insurgents continue to come into Iraq from Syria and Iran. "Nations that serve as conduits for mass murderers are not friends of the Iraqi people, they're not friends of the United States, and they are certainly not friends of the civilized world," Rumsfeld said. Iraq's political and economic stability also must improve, and the country must be able to take responsibility for its own security, he added.

"Let there be no doubt that if the coalition were to leave before the Iraqi security forces are able to assume responsibility," he warned, "we would one day again have to confront another Iraqi regime, perhaps even more dangerous than the last, in a region plunged into darkness rather than liberated and free."

Defense leaders testifying today the political process is key to success in Iraq, and that a new government would go a long way toward ending the insurgency, perhaps making it possible then to begin setting a timetable for withdrawal. But in any event, the secretary reminded the senators, it's not his decision to make. "I might make recommendations to the president, but its for him to make those decisions, not me," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary said it's "critically important" that Iraq keep its present timetable for establishing a permanent government. He said he does not favor a six-month delay on the constitution, even though it is permitted under the transitional administrative law.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, also testifying today, said any delay in the Iraqi vote would give insurgents and opportunity "to get better organized."

"It increases the number of deaths and the tempo of action," he said. "It would be a bad thing, but not fatal."

Myers told the committee that "significant, positive" steps are being made each day in securing Iraq's freedom and security. "We are on the right course, and we must stay that course," he said.

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who commands multinational forces in Iraq, noted the progress Iraq has made in the year since the Coalition Provisional Authority turned over sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government. Casey said Iraqis, supported by the coalition, have established an interim government, neutralized the insurgency, and helped eliminate terrorist havens across the country.

"Iraqis are serious about their future," he said. "And they are serious about building a government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, and they are serious about defeating the terrorists and the insurgents that are doing the utmost to deny them their dreams."

Casey noted that recent polls show Iraqi citizens are confident in their government and in their security forces, are optimistic about their future, and intend to vote in large numbers in the upcoming elections. "The Iraqi people are committed to something better," he said. "They are fighting every day for the dream of a better future."

Rumsfeld said success in Iraq cannot be defined as "domestic tranquility." Rather, he said, "Success will be when there is a free Iraq, where Iraqis are the guarantors of their own security, with minimal coalition involvement. And that will be a truly historic accomplishment."

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