The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East says there's been a "dramatic decrease" of violence in Iraq.
"By almost every measure, the security situation has improved significantly," Adm. William Fallon said in remarks prepared for a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But he added that such gains are reversible. Violent extremism is still a threat to the Iraqi government and its people. Some of those groups benefit from external support, he said, specifically from Syria and Iran.
That could mean a halt in troop reductions until later this year. The Pentagon hopes to bring troop levels down from 20 active-duty army brigades to 15 by July.
Summer Time Review
However, Fallon said that officials will probably need some time this summer to reassess the situation in Iraq before drawing down more troops.
"Recommendations will consider the existing security situation, progress of the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) and their readiness to assume responsibility for security," he said. "The conditions on the ground will be a major determinant of future moves."
He said he expects Gen. David Petraeus will suggest to him that come midyear "it's prudent to make an assessment of where we are."
Fallon said that Petraeus, who oversees combat in Iraq, has the daunting task of making sure Iraqi security forces are ready to take over. He said the goal will be to try not to lose the momentum U.S. forces have gained.
In Afghanistan, forces have degraded the Taliban's ability to attack, despite an increase in violence last year, Fallon said. The rise in suicide attacks, while alarming, is confined to about 10 percent of the total districts in Afghanistan.
Source: The Associated Press