Washington, 5 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Bush said progress on security and political developments were the chief reasons for the reduction of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After meeting with top U.S. defense officials, Bush confirmed plans to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq from 17 to 15 brigades. Brigades have 3,500 troops each:
"The adjustment is under way," Bush said. "This adjustment will result in a net decrease of several thousand troops below the pre-election baseline of 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The decrease comes in addition to the reduction of about 20,000 troops who were in Iraq to assist with security during the December elections."
'Progress' In Iraq
The president said U.S. commanders told him that 215,000 Iraqis performed well as security forces during the parliamentary elections.
He also expressed optimism about the political will of Iraqis after the high turnout in December's parliamentary elections. Iraq's main political parties are reportedly nearing an agreement on forming a coalition government that would include Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs, as well as Kurds.
Bush hinted this could lead to further troop reductions: "Later this year, if Iraqis continue to make progress on the security and political sides that we expect, we can discuss further possible adjustments with the leaders of a new government in Iraq."
Bush said decisions on troop levels would be based on recommendations of U.S. commanders and not on what he called "false political timetables in Washington." He has come under increasing pressure from opposition Democrats in Washington to provide an exit strategy for U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bush also cited emerging concerns about abuses committed by Iraqi police and said U.S. forces would place new focus on improving their professionalism.
His comments came after insurgents launched one of their bloodiest series of attacks since the elections. Attacks on 5 January killed more than 50 people, many of them mourners at a funeral procession.
In Afghanistan, Bush said U.S. forces would decline from 19,000 to 16,500 this year. He said this was possible because of NATO plans to increase its force level from 9,000 to 15,000.
"Our strategy has been to provide a strong commitment to provide stability so that democracy can flourish and then as others, including Afghan troops as well as NATO troops, step in we step back," Bush said. "We're going to continue to conduct antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan as well. This is all part of a global war against a terrorist network."
Bush said both Iraq and Afghanistan remained the major fronts for U.S.-led campaigns against terrorism.