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Gen. John Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, testified at Senate and House hearings Wednesday and said that imposing a firm timetable for withdrawal from Iraq would hurt efforts by U.S. commanders to manage the war.
The number-one question before the Senate Armed Services Committee today was: What will it take to get the chaos in Iraq under control?
Addressing that issue were Army General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, and Ambassador David Satterfield, the State Department's senior adviser on Iraq. General Abizaid shocked this same panel three months ago when he said Iraq could slide toward civil war. Today, he offered a reassessment.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, Top U.S. Commander in the Middle East: I'm very encouraged by my most recent trip. And that, while sectarian violence remains high and worrisome, it's certainly not as bad as the situation appeared back in August.
It's still at unacceptably high levels. I wouldn't say that we have turned the corner in this regard, but it's not nearly as bad as it was back in August, and I am encouraged by that.
The question of troop levels then became the focus of this Armed Services hearing, the first since the midterm elections. There are nearly 150,000 Americans currently serving in Iraq. Several committee Democrats advocated setting a timetable to draw down U.S. forces, but Republicans resisted that approach.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: Do we need more American troops at the moment to quell the violence?
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:
No, I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
Do we need less American troops?
I believe that the troop levels need to stay where they are. We need to put more American capacity into Iraqi units to make them more capable in their ability to confront the sectarian problem.
So it's your testimony that we don't need any change in troop levels to get this right?
It is possible that we might have to go up in troop levels in order to increase the number of forces that go into the Iraqi security forces.
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