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U.S. troop levels in Iraq may drop

July 7, 2008 at 3:07 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- Improved security in Iraq means more U.S. troops will leave in 2009 regardless of which political party occupies the White House, a U.S. military expert says.

Jack Keane, a retired U.S. Army vice chief of staff who consults with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told USA Today he envisages "significant reductions in 2009 whoever becomes president."

"I believe the momentum we have is not reversible," Keane said.

Keane based his conjecture on increased stability in the Middle Eastern nation despite the withdrawal of nearly one-quarter of U.S. combat brigades from surge-heightened levels.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reinforces that position, having said last weekend "we defeated" the terrorists, the U.S. newspaper reported.

Still, U.S. commanders remain leery of projecting more pullbacks. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, second in command in Iraq, said recently "progress is fragile, and we continue to work to make this progress irreversible."

The improved situation in Iraq contrasts with escalating violence in Afghanistan, USA Today noted. U.S. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he wants to send more troops to Afghanistan but not at the expense of losing gains in Iraq by shifting troops prematurely.

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