In a long-anticipated progress report on Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testified before two Senate hearings Tuesday, where they warned Congress that security gains were "fragile."
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Army General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and his diplomatic counterpart, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, returned to Capitol Hill today, seven months after their last assessment ordered by Congress.
Today, a key issue was whether the Bush administration would cut troop levels any further than those planned for by July, about 140,000 soldiers and Marines.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: Our current open-ended commitment is an invitation to continuing dependency. An open-ended pause starting in July would be just the next page in a war plan with no exit strategy.
The soldier and the diplomat cited improvements since last fall, but repeatedly warned those security gains are reversible.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, Commander, U.S. Forces in Iraq: Since September, levels of violence and civilian deaths have been reduced substantially. Al-Qaida-Iraq and a number of other extremist elements have been dealt serious blows.
The capabilities of Iraqi security forces elements have grown, and there has been noteworthy involvement of local Iraqis in local security.
Nonetheless, the situation in certain areas is still unsatisfactory, and innumerable challenges remain. Moreover, as events in the past two weeks have reminded us — and as I have repeatedly cautioned — the progress made since last spring is fragile and reversible.
A number of factors have contributed to the progress that has been made. First, of course, has been the impact of increased numbers of coalition and Iraqi forces.
You're well-aware of the U.S. surge. Less recognized is that Iraq has also conducted a surge, adding well over 100,000 additional soldiers and police to the ranks of its security forces in 2007 and slowly increasing its capability to deploy and employ these forces.
A second factor has been the employment of coalition and Iraqi forces in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations across the country, deployed together to safeguard the Iraqi people, to pursue al-Qaida-Iraq, to combat criminal elements and militia extremists, to foster local reconciliation, and to enable political and economic progress.
Another important factor has been the attitudinal shift among certain elements of the Iraqi population. Since the first Sunni awakening in late 2006, Sunni communities in Iraq increasingly have rejected Al Qaida-Iraq's indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology.
Petraeus outlined the military's plans to draw down the current number of troops, about 160,000, to pre-surge levels by July.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS:
Upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation. At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and over time determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions.
This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit. This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable.
However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve.