By DAVID S. CLOUD - President Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to end U.S. involvement in Iraq, but he always threw in the caveat that he wanted to consult with military commanders before making a final decision.
As he prepares to outline his withdrawal plan Friday in a speech to Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he has slightly modified his campaign plan for removing U.S. forces to allay concerns among commanders that fragile security gains in Iraq could be jeopardized unless the drawdown plans are handled carefully.
But the plan Obama will outline does not back away in major ways from his pledge to withdraw U.S. combat forces. Instead of a 16-month withdrawal period, as he originally called for, most of the troops now in Iraq would be withdrawn over the next 19 months, leaving by August 2010, senior officials said.
Even under this slightly delayed timetable, the Pentagon would bring at least 92,000 troops home over the next year and a half, a massive exodus that is likely to satisfy most Americans that he is fulfilling his promise to bring the war to a close, even if some top Democrats say it's not enough.
The remaining U.S. forces— totaling between 35,000 and 50,000 —would have a scaled-down mission focused on advising Iraqi forces, protecting civilian reconstruction projects and carrying out counter-terrorism operations.
Senior administration officials emphasized that Obama is determined to remove all U.S. troops by the end of the 2011, as called for under an agreement signed by Iraqi and Bush administration officials. At least for now, Obama does not plan on asking Iraqi officials to allow any to remain in the country after that deadline.
If that is carried out, it would end the U.S. military presence in Iraq on a timetable that is far shorter than almost anyone anticipated.
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