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As If On Cue, Gates Thinks We Can Draw Down Faster In Iraq

Not being on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s trip to the Middle East this week, I couldn’t ask him whether this is related to the expected request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal for more troops for Afghanistan, but, you know, the mind wanders:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said conditions in Iraq have improved to the extent that the U.S. combat brigade drawdown from the country may accelerate.

“I think there is at least a chance of a modest acceleration” in the drawdown schedule, Gates said during a news roundtable today.

It’s not as if you can pick a brigade out of Iraq and move it to Afghanistan, and that’s certainly not what Gates proposed. Any combat brigade deployment or return has an impact on the Army’s broader deployment schedule, though, and if McChrystal’s going to request more assets, they’ve got to come from somewhere.

Anyway, Gates caveated his assessment by saying that he’ll keep an eye to security conditions on the ground in Iraq when determining if it’s responsible to pull an additional brigade out before the end of the year, and he’ll consult with Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, before reaching a conclusion. The fact that Gates can consider moving up the schedule for withdrawal without it raising a hue and cry supports the initial wisdom of securing Odierno’s support for the withdrawal schedule in first place. As conditions change, Gates and the Obama administration possess the good will with Odierno to shift the plans up.

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