ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
President Bush made a visit to the Pentagon today. He met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president's visit marks the beginning of a two-week marathon of reports, testimony and briefings on the future of the American military effort in Iraq. It's all leading up to next month's appearance before Congress of General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq.
NPR's Tom Bowman reports.
TOM BOWMAN: President Bush called his hour-long meeting with the military chiefs a very productive discussion, and he noted in a statement the so-called surge in forces has been going on less than three months.
The president's visit to the Pentagon comes as another report cast doubt on progress in Iraq. The report by retired American military officers says the Iraqi national police force, long a source of sectarian attacks, must be revamped. And while the president called his meeting with the chiefs very productive, retired Army Major General Robert Scales says it's well known the service chiefs would like to see American troops start coming home, sooner than General Petraeus would like.
Mr. ROBERT SCALES (Retired Major General, U.S. Army): The Joint Chiefs of Staff have never been particularly enamored with the surge all along. The Joint Chiefs are in charge of global defense, and they realize that the Army and the Marine Corps are stretched and that something is going to have to be done soon if we're going to protect our global interest.
BOWMAN: Scales ran the Army War College and later wrote a book on the Iraq war. He says Petraeus has his work cut out for him.
Mr. SCALES: Dave is going to face a really tough audience politically, economically. He's going to have a high barb that he's going to have to get over in order to make his case.
BOWMAN: Petraeus and his senior officers have been saying the so-called surge in American troops must continue into next spring and summer. They see positive developments. They say violence is down. But an upcoming assessment by the Government Accountability Office reportedly says that while attacks on U.S. troops are down, attacks on Iraqi civilians remain unchanged. That will likely put more political pressure on lawmakers. A majority of Democrats in Congress want the troops to start coming home. Now, more Republicans are starting to move in that direction.
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): Say 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.
BOWMAN: That's Senator John Warner of Virginia, one of the most respected Republican voices on defense issues. He says there has been little political progress among the Iraqis, a view echoed in the GAO report.
The critical report on Iraqi national police was first reported in today's New York Times and confirmed by NPR. U.S. military officers in Iraq and Iraqi citizens have long complained that the national police has been infiltrated by Shiite militias or, at the very least, police look the other way while the militias target innocent Sunni civilians.
But a top American trainer for the Iraqi forces, Brigadier General Dana Pittard, recently told reporters that the national police have changed.
Brigadier General DANA PITTARD (U.S. Army): This time last year, many people on the coalition side and in America were writing off the national police as just merely an arm of the Shia militia.
BOWMAN: Pittard said many national police commanders had been removed, more Sunni commanders are being appointed.
Brig. Gen. PITTARD: I would add also, along with that, in changing out leaders, the national police began - with the help of the coalition - a very aggressive training program.
BOWMAN: Sources say the report will also call for more American military trainers - now at about 4,000 - to help the Iraqi forces. And the Iraqi forces themselves must increase in size, particularly the army to battle the insurgency.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon.
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