WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday will announce plans to withdraw about 8,000 American troops from Iraq by February 2009 and deploy soldiers to Afghanistan where violence has been surging.
Bush, who has seen his job approval rating sink to record lows because of the prolonged wars, has repeatedly said he would only withdraw troops from Iraq if his military advisers recommended it based on security conditions in the war zone.
“While the progress in Iraq is still fragile and reversible, Gen. (David) Petraeus and Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker report that there now appears to be a ‘degree of durability’ to the gains we have made,” Bush plans to say at the National Defence University, according to remarks released on Monday by the White House.
He will say some 3,400 combat support troops would leave Iraq over the coming months along with a Marine battalion by November. Another one of the 15 Army combat brigades will leave in February, Bush plans to say.
“And if the progress in Iraq continues to hold, Gen. Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009,” according to the speech.
Bush will say he plans to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan in the coming months, as attacks by al Qaeda and Taliban militants have increased there.
“In November, a Marine battalion that was scheduled to deploy to Iraq will instead deploy to Afghanistan,” according to the speech text. “It will be followed in January by an Army combat brigade.”
There are 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 33,000 in Afghanistan.
Any large-scale shift in U.S. forces in those war zones will be left to Bush’s successor — either Republican Sen. John McCain or Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. Bush leaves office in January 2009.
Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Kristin Roberts