RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A sad milestone for the U.S. in Iraq last night. It came in a brief statement from the U.S. military command in Baghdad, reporting the deaths of four soldiers in a bomb blast there. According to the Associated Press count, that brought the overall death toll among American troops to 4,000.
This week, the White House and the Pentagon will be formally reviewing U.S. strategy in Iraq. This morning, the president hears from General David Petraeus and the head of Central Command Admiral William Fallon. On Wednesday, the president sits down with the Joints Chiefs at the Pentagon for their assessment.
NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz joins us now with a look at what's likely to come up. And, Guy, first of all, why is this assessment happening at all? Remind of us of that.
GUY RAZ: Well, Renee, there are really three main reasons why. And I think the most important one has to do with when to stop pulling the troops out. Right now, the Pentagon is reducing the total number of troops in Iraq by around three to 4,000 a month. So by somewhere around August, that'll leave about 135 to 140,000 total troops stationed there. And at that point, the president will have to decide whether to keep reducing the troop presence or maintain it at that level.
The second reason, really, is because General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are coming back to Washington early next month to update Congress on the situation there and where they think it's headed. Now, you'll remember these two men testified last September. And so the White House and the Pentagon want to sort of start getting ready for that testimony.
And the final reason is the White House is now negotiating sort of a long term agreement with Iraq that is due to be wrapped up in July. So before that happens, they want to get a sense of where Iraq is now and where they believe it's headed.
MONTAGNE: And what kind of advice is the president expected to be getting from these different commanders?
RAZ: Well, from Petraeus and Admiral Fallon, it's pretty straightforward. Come August, General Petraeus wants to see a temporary freeze on the troop withdrawals. He basically wants to see whether 135,000 troops will be able to have the same impact on security and stability as 160,000, which actually was the total number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq at the height of the surge back in September.
When it comes to the commanders here in Washington, the service chiefs, their take is slightly different. They're going to probably defer to Petraeus on temporarily halting the reductions. But the chiefs, you know, they're more concerned about personnel matters, and particularly the Army and the Army's Chief of Staff General George Casey.
And he's been very explicit in his view that, you know, he believes Army deployments need to be shortened. Right now, a soldier goes to Iraq or Afghanistan for 15 months. That's the length of standard deployment - the longest, by the way, since the Second World War. And he wants to reduce those tour lengths to, at most, 12 months a year.
But among senior officers I've spoken to here in Washington, they generally believe that, you know, the violence will probably remain relatively steady through the year, even with fewer U.S. troops on the ground.
MONTAGNE: And just very briefly, what does this mean about what General Petraeus will tell Congress when he testifies next month?
RAZ: Well, it tells us a little bit - certainly, some of the details. But a lot of the details we won't know. Back in September - the last time he testified -Petraeus managed to surprise all of us with his decision to recommend very quick withdrawals from Iraq.
MONTAGNE: Guy, thank you very much. NPR's Guy Raz.
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