The Pentagon is prepared to leave fighting forces in Iraq for as long as a decade despite an agreement between the United States and Iraq that would bring all American troops home by 2012, the top U.S. Army officer said Tuesday.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, said the world remains dangerous, and the Pentagon must plan for extended U.S. combat and stability operations in two wars. "Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction," Casey said. "They fundamentally will change how the Army works."
He spoke at an invitation-only briefing to a dozen journalists and policy analysts from Washington-based think tanks. He said his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a U.S. commitment to fighting extremism in the Middle East.
Casey's calculations about force levels are related to his attempt to ease the brutal deployment calendar that he said would "bring the Army to its knees."
Casey said his comments were not meant to conflict with administration policies.
President Obama plans to bring U.S. combat forces home from Iraq in 2010, and the United States and Iraq have agreed that all American forces would leave by 2012. Several senior U.S. officials have suggested Iraq could request an extension, but the legal agreement that the two countries signed last year would have to be amended.
The United States has about 139,000 troops in Iraq and 52,000 in Afghanistan.
Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war quickly and refocusing U.S. resources on what he called the more important fight in Afghanistan. The United States is expected to have about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year. That's about double the total at the end of 2008, but Obama's top military and civilian advisors have indicated the number is unlikely to grow much beyond that.