Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, wants to continue the mission with the current troop buildup until spring 2008, in order to maintain improvements made in security there.
Despite divisions in the Bush administration over whether to bring some forces home sooner, Gen. Petraeus, who is set to deliver a much-anticipated progress report to Congress on Monday, is expected to advocate for a gradual reduction of forces in the spring.
"Based on the progress our forces are achieving, I expect to be able to recommend that some of our forces will be redeployed without replacement," Petraeus said in an e-mail to The Boston Globe that was published in its Friday editions.
President Bush ordered troop escalation in January in hopes of achieving greater success in the war in Iraq that has sharply criticized for its poor administration.
The U.S. would be hard-pressed to maintain the current level of nearly 170,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely.
President Bush suggested that modest troop cuts may be possible if military successes continue; although he gave no timeline or specific numbers. But he backpedaled some this week when he told reporters attending the APEC summit in Australia that decisions about troop levels should come from the military commanders.
Reducing troops before spring runs the risk that "you are going to unhinge" security gains made with the buildup, Petraeus' spokesman, Col. Steve Boylan, said Friday.
The president is said to be considering a symbolic reduction in troops by year's end to placate detractors. He has been urged by the Democratic-led Congress to withdraw troops; and members of the GOP have been as adamant.
Sen. John Warner, R.-Va., a former Armed Services Committee chairman, Navy secretary and key player on military issues on Capitol Hill, also has suggested that some troops be brought home by Christmas as a gesture.
President Bush met privately at the Pentagon with the service chiefs and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in preparation for decisions about how long to sustain the buildup, whether to change course this fall and how to restore vibrancy to the heavily stressed Army and Marine Corps.
Petraeus' testimony before Congress follows the release of a host of grim assessments of conditions in Iraq over the past several weeks.
But an independent panel led by retired Marine Gen. James Jones concluded in a report to Congress on Thursday that Iraq's security forces would be unable to take control in the next 12 months to 18 months and recommended that its national police force be scrapped and entirely rebuilt because of corruption and sectarianism.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reported Tuesday that Iraq has failed to meet 11 of its 18 political and security goals.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press