Appearing with the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq to report on military and political developments in the four-year-old war effort, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus claimed major progress for the so-called "surge," the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq last spring.
Citing a drop in the overall level of violence in Iraq, Petraeus said, "I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to pre-surge levels . . . without jeopardizing security gains we fought so hard to achieve." He said he also believes that "it is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time," although this will be "neither quick nor easy."
Petraeus said he has "recommended a drawdown" of U.S. forces starting later this month with the withdrawal of a Marine unit. Further "redeployments" should continue into next year, with U.S. troop strength dropping to about 130,000 troops by mid-July 2008, he said.
The much-anticipated testimony of Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker at a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees could help shape upcoming congressional decisions on funding for the Iraq war. The pair also is scheduled to testify together Tuesday at separate Senate hearings, one before the Foreign Relations Committee and the other before the Armed Services Committee.
Senator John Kerry issued the following statement today, in response to testimony from General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker:
“It spoke volumes today when General Petraeus said the Iraqi politicians have been sitting on their thumbs while American soldiers sweated it out all summer. Nothing today suggested that President Bush’s eight months of escalation have done anything to achieve political progress in a deadly civil war,” Kerry said. “The three recent independent reports – from the General Accounting Office, the National Intelligence Estimate and the General Jones Commission - all say the opposite. I am looking forward to hearing from both of these public servants tomorrow during the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing.”
Michael Abramowitz notes in the WaPo, that the "long-awaited testimony this afternoon of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, once seen as a potential turning point in war policy, seemed more like an exercise of kicking the can down the road."
Petraeus left the larger questions -- what will be the future size and mission of the American "footprint" in Iraq -- unanswered. He offered hints that the reductions might continue beyond next summer but said he would not be able to offer a definitive judgment until March.
"Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous," Petraeus testified.
I'm not sure what the line up is for Senator's on the Foreign Relations Committee questioning Petraeus tomorrow, but no doubt, Kerry will not be holding any punches.
Cross posted from The Democratic Daily.