February 22, 2008 / 9:08 PM / 12 years ago

Gates hopes to pull troops from Iraq after pause

(Adds comments in Ottawa by Adm. Fallon, paragraphs 7-9)

CANBERRA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday he hopes to pull more troops out of Iraq after a brief pause in withdrawals in July or August meant to assess the impact of lower troop levels on security in the war zone.

"My hope still is that we will be able to further draw down our troops in Iraq over the course of the next 10 to 12 months," Gates said en route to meetings in Australia.

Under current plans, the Pentagon is withdrawing five of its 20 combat brigades — or about 20,000 troops — from Iraq through mid-July. Gates previously said he hoped to continue pulling about one brigade out per month through the end of the year.

But since then, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has recommended a pause in withdrawals to assess the security situation in Iraq. Gates said Petraeus convinced him that a pause would be appropriate.

"My hope would be that it would be a relatively brief period. But we will see in greater detail what Gen. Petraeus has in mind when he brings his recommendations back to Washington and to the president next month," Gates said.

The United States has about 158,000 troops in Iraq.

In Ottawa, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Adm. William Fallon, made no mention of a pause and spoke of U.S. hopes to continue withdrawals in a measured way after the summer.

Fallon said in a speech to a defense conference that a sharp improvement in the security situation in Iraq had allowed the drawdown of U.S. forces to begin.

"As the winter accelerates into the springtime and the summer, that’s going to increase in pace, and we’re hopeful that we can continue that in a measured way that enables us to turn over the bulk of the responsibility to the Iraqis, but at the same time we don’t let this thing fall back down the hole again," Fallon said. (Reporting by Kristin Roberts with Gates and Randall Palmer in Ottawa)



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