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In First Meeting With Military, Obama Outlines Goals for Action in Iraq

President Obama met with top military officials to discuss the status of Iraq and his administration's plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by May 2010. Retired Army generals discuss the feasibility of his plan.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next, the other major Obama agenda item of this day, Iraq and the military. Margaret Warner has that story.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    It was one of candidate Obama's top campaign promises, that on his first day as president he would convene his top military leaders and give them a new mission in Iraq.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    In order to end this war responsibly, I will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. We can responsibly remove one to two combat brigades each month. If we start with the number of brigades we have in Iraq today, we can remove all of them in 16 months.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But two months ago, after the campaign ended, the Bush administration finalized its own troop withdrawal deal with Iraq.

    Under the status-of-forces agreement, or SOFA, U.S. combat troops will leave bases in Iraqi cities and towns by June 2009 and all U.S. forces will leave Iraq by December 2011.

    President Obama's campaign pledge called for removing all combat troops by May of 2010.

    There are currently 140,000 forces, combat and non-combat, in Iraq.

    The White House didn't disclose what President Obama directed his top defense and military officials to do when they met to discuss Iraq late today. But an Obama transition spokeswoman said days ago that he would meet with his commanders, quote, "to make a determination how we move forward to safely redeploy our combat brigades in 16 months."

    Here to discuss what it would take to meet that pledge, we're joined by retired General Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff from 1999 to 2003. He was one of the most prominent advocates of President Bush's program to surge troops into Iraq. He is now a business consultant.

    And retired Army General Wesley Clark, who was supreme allied commander in Europe from 1997 to 2000. He sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 and he, too, is a business consultant.

    Welcome to you both, generals both.