Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Friday that he hoped to cut the U.S. force in Iraq to nearly half its current size by the end of 2008, a more dramatic reduction than President Bush endorsed this week and a new indication of divergent viewpoints within the administration and the military.
Bush and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, proposed modest reductions to bring U.S. troop levels to between 130,000 and 140,000 by July. Although Petraeus said additional reductions were possible by the end of next year, Gates went further Friday and said he hoped troop levels would drop to 100,000. There are 20 ground combat brigades, or 169,000 troops, in Iraq.
Gates, an early skeptic of the troop buildup that began this year, took pains Friday to emphasize that the Bush administration's top military advisors agreed on how to proceed in Iraq. But Gates' comments reflect underlying rifts within the military, between commanders in the field and those at the Pentagon, as the war enters its latest phase.
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