Pentagon Studies Long-Term Commitment in Iraq

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace testifies before a Senate panel.

hide captionChairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace testifies before a Senate Appropriations panel, May 9, 2007.

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

The White House and Pentagon are under increasing pressure from Congress and the public to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq. But the Pentagon is considering maintaining a core group of forces in Iraq, possibly for decades.

Two factors may determine the course of the war in Iraq — political progress inside Iraq and American public opinion. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds only 25 percent of Americans say America is moving in the right direction. And Iraq is a big reason for those who think the country is not.

Numbers like that may help to explain a carefully worded public statement this month from Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Testifying before the Senate, he was asked if the Pentagon has made any contingency plans to withdraw from Iraq.

"We have published no orders directing the planning for the overall withdrawal of forces," Pace replied. "We do have ongoing replacements of forces, and we do change the size of the force over time so that that system is available to either plus-up or draw down, but we have published no orders saying come up with a complete plan for total drawdown."

The Pentagon has not published any contingency plans on how to deal with Iraq in the event of a large-scale drawdown, but it is discussing various scenarios.

A series of military installations could be maintained around Iraq, with a total of total of 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops, for a long period of time — maybe a few decades. There are currently about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The bases would be located in various strategic locations, ones that served by air landing strips, for instance. The bases would be sealed and U.S. forces wouldn't be on patrols as they are now.

But maintaining a troop presence in Iraq would allow the U.S. military to continue training Iraqi forces. It would also help discourage other countries, like Iran and Turkey, from entering Iraq.

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