U.S. generals cite military progress

By Associated press
Published October 3, 2005

WASHINGTON - Senior military commanders said Sunday that Iraqi security forces are improving significantly as U.S. officials stood by earlier assessments that some U.S. forces could return home early next year.

Appearing separately on a total of four network talk shows Sunday, Gen. George W. Casey, who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid, who leads the U.S. Central Command, stressed the military and political progress being made in Iraq.

The generals played down the fact that the number of top-level battalions of Iraqi soldiers - those ready to go to war without U.S. assistance - has fallen from three to one since June.

More important to the mission of training Iraqis is the growing number of Iraqi security forces at all levels, including those able to lead operations with U.S. backing, Casey said. "The development of the Iraqi security forces is very much on track," Casey told ABC's This Week .

Casey and Abizaid have said U.S. troop levels could decrease in the spring if Iraq's political and security conditions were favorable.

That assessment appeared in question last week when Abizaid and Casey told a Senate committee about the reduction in top-level Iraqi battalions.

But on Sunday, Abizaid told NBC's Meet the Press that if a legitimate government emerges from upcoming elections and represents all of Iraq's political factions, "there's no reason to suppose that we can't bring force levels down in the spring."

Casey would not set a specific date for a drawdown of U.S. troops, now numbering nearly 150,000. He said a reduction was part of the overall strategy and would be based on conditions in Iraq.

--Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.