In order for President Obama to meet his pledge to get Iraq troop levels down to 50,000 by August, the military will have to exit the country at a rate of about 14,000 troops per month — a difficult but doable task, military observers tell TPMmuckraker.
The number of U.S. troops in Iraq currently stands at 94,100, according to the Pentagon.
Unless Obama changes his policy, the military must get at least 44,000 troops out of Iraq by August. The Pentagon said recently that it expects to get down to 91,000 by the end of May, at which point an accelerated pullout will begin. (See chart below.)
While the AP this week quoted two “senior administration officials” saying that “the White House is closely watching to see if the Aug. 31 date needs to be pushed back,” military observers interviewed by TPMmuckraker say the accelerated pullout is possible if the will exists.
“If we are to meet the president’s objective, the logisticians will throw more resources at it,” says Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), who trained Iraqi troops in the early years of the war and is now a senior adviser at the National Security Network. “We do want to pull all their unit equipment out with them. That’s not trivial. But major stuff like vehicles that are a bit of a challenge — it wouldn’t surprise me if we would keep some or move those out a little more slowly.”
Peter Juul, a military affairs researcher at the Center for American Progress, says, “They may be cutting it close in terms of a cut-off point where meeting the deadline becomes unfeasible from a technical perspective, but I haven’t seen anything to make me think that they would be missing the deadline.”
In his February 2009 speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Obama pledged that the “combat mission” in Iraq would end by August 31, 2010. The United States would keep 35,000 to 50,000 troops for what he described as a training and advisory mission. He said all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
During the campaign, Obama promised “to end the war safely and responsibly within 16 months.” If the administration had followed through, the war would have been over by this month.
Below is a chart of troop levels in Iraq since November 2008. The Defense Department provided TPMmuckraker with monthly troop numbers, as counted by U.S. Central Command. The figures, Pentagon spokeswoman Elizabeth Robbins tells TPMmuckraker, do not include “small numbers of troops” that are not under Central Command’s control.
And, of course, the large number of U.S. contractors in Iraq are also not included.