Skelton suggests plan for bringing troops back home

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

He has asked the president to remove one U.S. brigade for every three Iraqi security forces deemed capable.

WASHINGTON -- The ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is calling on President Bush to remove one American brigade from Iraq for every three Iraqi security force brigades deemed capable of defending the country.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said Monday the redeployment formula would provide "a measurable sense of progress" that Americans need to see if the White House expects to have support for the mission in Iraq.

"I believe we that we should set a benchmark that is easy to understand and that sets reasonable, achievable standards for both our forces and the Iraqis," Skelton said in a letter to Bush last week. Skelton made the letter available Monday.

Earlier this month, Democrats criticized a Pentagon report that set no timeline or milestones to directly tie the drawdown of coalition forces to increased numbers of capable Iraqi battalions.

The Bush administration has said training Iraqi security forces to defend their own country is the key to bringing home U.S. troops. But Democrats have demanded more details on when American troops can begin leaving Iraq.

A White House spokesman said Skelton's letter was under review and had no immediate comment.

As the war's popularity has slipped, Congress this year started requiring the Pentagon to report every three months on the efforts to shift security responsibilities to the Iraqis. The reports must project how many U.S. troops would be needed there next year.

It is unclear how much support Skelton's plan will have among Democratic leaders in Congress. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, declined to comment.

"I've told others, but I've not asked anyone else to sign on," Skelton said. "This is my best judgment and it's a good solid proposal. I just hope the secretary of defense and the president see it that way."

He stressed that his plan is not a withdrawal from efforts to stabilize Iraq and suggested the troops could be stationed in other hot spots, just as Afghanistan or South Korea.

The Pentagon's report said drawdown would occur in a phased manner as Iraqi forces become capable of taking the lead within areas of Iraq and in concert with Iraqi political and economic progress.

The report came just weeks after top U.S. commanders in Iraq disclosed that the number of Iraqi battalions able to operate independently had dropped from three to one. About 800 Iraqis are in a battalion.

Besides providing a clear benchmark, Skelton urged the Pentagon "to apply even more resources toward the training of Iraqi security forces to accelerate the effort."

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