Joint Chiefs oppose pullout
‘No dissent’ on strategy, timetable
All six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, amid an ongoing Pentagon review of strategy for Iraq, oppose pulling out U.S. troops now, and are also against a specific withdrawal timetable, a defense source said Nov. 29.
“The chiefs are solid. They want victory,” the source said. “There is no dissent.”
The Joint Chiefs — which includes Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman, along with a vice chairman and the heads of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy — have been meeting several times a week to review a list of Iraq options for President Bush.
The Pentagon has said all options are open for consideration during the far-reaching review. But on the question of withdrawal, the issue is settled in favor of Mr. Bush’s position, the source said.
“We are looking at the whole spectrum of possible military actions,” Gen. Pace said. “I’m not going to say to you where I am personally, nor where the chiefs are, because our responsibility is to
give our best military advice.”
A Pentagon spokesman said he had no information on the chiefs’ positions.
At a press conference, Gen. Pace endorsed the idea of shifting more Iraqi forces into violencewracked Baghdad, where Shi’ite and Sunni terrorists are on a killing spree to gain control of the capital. A number of lawmakers, including Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and House Armed Services Committee chairman, advocate sending more Iraqi battalions to the capital.
“I think that idea has a good amount of appeal for multiple reasons,” Gen. Pace said. “Because Baghdad is extremely important to the Iraqi government, and their armed forces and their security forces are the proper long-term solution to that problem.”
Gen. Pace said that putting into practice a Baghdad redeployment depends on whether Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki think they have sufficient personnel from a total force of more than 300,000.
“The question is, when they move them from where they are, what condition does that create from where they moved them,” he said.
The Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission of former of- ficeholders, completed work Nov. 29 on its final report to Mr. Bush. The report will be released Dec. 6, the day after Senate confirmation hearings begin for Defense Secretary-designate Robert M. Gates.
Mr. Bush is not likely to warmly embrace the study group’s centerpiece proposal — direct diplomatic engagement with U.S. adversaries Syria and Iran, which are fueling the various insurgency groups in Iraq that are killing U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians by the thousands.
Defense sources said the group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, decided not to call for a specific timetable to bring home troops because such an idea lacked unanimous support on the panel.
Gen. Pace told reporters that Gen. Casey has started, after a buildup in August, to put yet more U.S. troops into Baghdad.
“The impact of those [August] increases has not been what we wanted it to be,” he said.
Defense officials say Gen. Casey is moving a Stryker armored-vehicle brigade from northern Iraq into Baghdad. An incoming brigade will eventually replace it in Mosul.
Gen. Pace said the Joint Chiefs review has been augmented by senior officers who have recently served in Iraq. They have compiled a list of ideas and personally discussed them with the chiefs in the “tank,” the group’s secure meeting place.
“We’re doing our job, which is to meet multiple times a week and to talk through individual pieces of the global military environment,” he said.
December is shaping up as a time of major decision-making by Mr. Bush. He will receive the study group report, more input from Gen. Pace and ideas from the National Security Council staff.
He has resisted direct talks with Syria and Iran, two U.S.-designated terrorism sponsors whom the administration thinks are using unrest in Iraq to spread violence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Mr. Bush has also ruled out a direct timetable for troop pullouts. He says reductions should be based on achieving peace and on the Iraqis’ ability to take control of security in more of the country’s 18 provinces.