Soldiering On

The current U.S. emphasis may be on the surge in Iraq, but there are plans to start drawing down U.S. forces by the beginning of 2008, according to senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the planning.

The senior U.S. commanders in Iraq -- Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen. David Petraeus -- want the surge to continue until at least December and expect to report enough progress in Iraq by September to justify it, officials told ABC News' Martha Raddatz.

But then a drawdown may begin in February 2008, although each of the two generals supports a slightly different plan.

Plan one, which officials say Odierno is pushing, would start with a drawdown of one brigade (5,000 troops) every month starting in February, with a reduction in troops from roughly 150,000 at present to 100,000 by December 2008.

Petraeus champions a slightly different approach that would cut the troops down to roughly 130,000 by the end of 2008, with further reductions the following year.

In any event, U.S. officials tell ABC News troop levels in Iraq cannot be maintained at the present level, either politically or practically, with the military stretched so thin.

Presence in Iraq Beyond 2009

There is also discussion of how long a reduced force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates envisions "some presence" on the part of the United States that, he said, "provides reassurance to our friends and to governments in the region, including those that might be our adversaries, that we're going to be there for a long time."

A senior official said one long-term plan would have 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. forces in Iraq for five to 10 years beyond 2009.

During that period, the bulk of the troops would be deployed to bases at strategic points throughout Iraq to respond to crisis in those areas. Camp Victory would continue to operate as the U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad.

In an interview to be broadcast on "This Week" Sunday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that Iraqi forces eventually can pick up the slack from U.S. troops, but not any time soon. He expects the Iraqi army will be ready to defend its country by "the end of the next year."

Some officials have serious doubts about that statement.

As far as the plans for the troops go, they could all change over the coming months.

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