Washington, Sep 15: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today he hoped that troop levels in Iraq could be reduced from the current 169,000 to about 100,000 by January 2009.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, told Congress this week he planned to withdraw five combat brigades and several Marine units by mid-July of next year. A combat brigade can contain anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 troops.
Gates said he hoped Petraeus would be able to recommend an additional drawdown of about five combat brigades - somewhere around 20,000 troops - in the second half of the year.
''My hope is that when he does his assessment in March ..
Gen Petraeus will be able to say that he thinks that the pace of drawdowns can continue at the same rate in the second half of the year as in the first half of the year,'' Gates said.
Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, Gates cautioned that any drawdown would depend on conditions in Iraq.
But asked if withdrawing another five combat brigades in the second half of next year would leave roughly 100,000 troops in Iraq in January 2009, Gates replied: ''That would be the math.''