U.S. Military to Reduce Iraq Troop Levels From 138,000 to 163,000

Washington, D.C., June 19, 2006 -- Citing an improving security situation in key Iraqi provinces, U.S. military commanders say they have begun the long-promised task of reducing the American troop presence in Iraq, beginning with a reduction to about 163,000 from the current 138,000 scheduled over the next six months.

According to high-ranking military officials who asked to remain anonymous as they are not authorized to discuss troop reductions, the Bush administration hopes to have lowered troop levels by a further 20,000 to 183,000 by November, with additional reductions scheduled for next year.

"We're confident that the improving security situation in Anbar province, Baghdad and other hotspots will allow us to continue our promised withdrawals of troops from Iraq at a steady and predictable pace," General John Abizaid, the top commander in the region, said during a defense department briefing. "Assuming no further deterioration or flare-up of internecine strife, I believe we should have lowered levels to just over 210,000 by early spring, 2007."

In the first stage of the troop reduction program, the U.S. military will be redeploying about 1,500 troops currently stationed in Kuwait into Iraq. The new troops are intended to help support anti-insurgency operations in the Anbar Province of Western Iraq.

While some pundits claim the Bush administration's repeated emphasis on troop reductions is primarily an election-year ploy, particularly considering the vulnerability of Republican congressional seats against the backdrop of Bush's record-low approval ratings, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow adamantly insists the announced troop reductions are a reflection of conditions on the ground in Iraq.

"The announced troop level reductions are a reflection of conditions on the ground in Iraq," Mr. Snow said in response to a question from a reporter during the morning White House Press Stenography Shuffle. "Conditions are currently such that our military can safely withdraw up to 50,000 of our current total of about 138,000 troops from Iraq over the next year, leaving a smaller force of less than 190,000 troops behind."

According to Mr. Snow, the Defense Department plans additional, major troop reductions to be accomplished in several stages over the course of 2007, eventually reaching the reduced level of between 275,000 and 300,000 troops in Iraq by early 2008 should ground conditions warrant.

"I'm sure the families of our military men and women, who have suffered more than any of us can really imagine, will be very pleased about that," Mr. Snow said.

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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