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Obama withdrawal option included in Iraq plans
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Thursday it is drawing up a plan for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq that would meet President-elect Barack Obama's campaign timetable for a 16-month pullout.
But defense officials emphasized that the Obama plan would be among a range of options that will be ready for the president-elect to review as soon as he takes office on Tuesday.
There was no indication that planners viewed the Obama timetable favorably.
"We want a variety of options including the 16-month drawdown and the risks associated with those possibilities," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Obama made the 16-month withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, despite misgivings among some commanders who have advised a cautious approach to troops cuts.
The president-elect also said he would confer with senior defense and military officials before reaching a final decision.
On Thursday, officials said the 16-month option was included in planning by U.S. Commander in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno, not at Obama's request but in response to the president-elect's public statements.
"We would be remiss if the options we showed him did not include the one he campaigned on," Morrell told reporters.
A 16-month withdrawal would have U.S. combat forces out of Iraq in May 2010.
The United States and Iraq recently reached a status of forces agreement calling for a longer withdrawal timetable that would require all U.S. forces to leave by the end of 2011.
The United States now has 142,000 troops in Iraq.
Morrell said Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, also have taken part in planning discussions.
The pace of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is key to Pentagon planning for a major expansion of American forces in Afghanistan, where there are now 32,000 U.S. troops.
U.S. military planners have said they could send as many as 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan over the next 12 to 18 months.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)
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