WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is considering leaving about 3,000 American troops in Iraq after this year, rejecting more ambitious Pentagon options that would have deployed 10,000 or more military personnel, two U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The White House has made it clear to Pentagon officials and military commanders that it wants to retain only a skeletal force in Iraq, primarily to train the nation’s military and police. Even the smaller number is subject to approval by Iraqi officials, who have final say over the presence of U.S. troops in their country.
The scaled-down proposal would allow President Barack Obama to say that he has fulfilled his pledge to end U.S. involvement in the Iraq war and bring home most American troops. But the internal debate has created tension between the White House and some military commanders, who argued that even a scaled-down U.S. role requires a military force large enough to protect itself.
As of last month, about 46,000 U.S. troops were deployed in Iraq. Unless the two governments agree to a continuing U.S. troop presence, all but a few will be withdrawn by year’s end under a 2008 agreement reached with the Iraqis by the George W. Bush administration.
As the deadline nears, some senior U.S. and Iraqi officials warn that Iraq’s army and police, despite billions of dollars in aid from Washington and its allies, will be unable to contain sectarian violence or prevent neighboring Iran from expanding its operations if U.S. forces are drawn down too far.