Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) wanted more detail on those evaluations by Gen. Petraeus? How long will it be before U.S. troops begin to leave Iraq, he wanted to know? Three months? Six months?
“It could be right then,” Petraeus answered, meaning after that 45 day evaluation period after July, or “it could be longer.”
OK, Levin said, assuming that everything goes perfectly, how many U.S. troops would remain in Iraq at the end of the year? Petraeus didn’t take the bait: “I can’t give you an estimate on that.”
Levin also grilled Petraeus on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Basra offensive. Was it really all on him?
“Would you say that Maliki followed your advice?” Levin wanted to know. “No, sir…. there’s no question but that it could have been better planned and that the preparations could have been better.”
Update: Here’s Levin’s questioning:
LEVIN: We’re going to have a six-minute round of questions.
General, after the brigade combat teams added by the surge are removed in July, leaving somewhat more troops — U.S. troops in Iraq than before the surge, but nonetheless, this is what you have recommended at that time to your chain of command, there would then be a 45-day period of evaluation.
After that period, which takes us to September, you recommend commencing a process of assessment and then over time determine when we can make — you can make recommendations for further reductions.
Now, that is a clear, open-ended pause: 45 days first to evaluate and then we will commence a process of assessment. I’m not sure what the difference between evaluation and assessment is, but then there’s some open-ended process of assessment, and over time there’ll be another determination.
Now, it seems to me that what you’ve given to your chain of command is a plan which has no end to it. You do not use the word which Secretary Gates used twice which is — that it would be a “brief pause.” I assume that’s intentional.
Do you agree with Secretary Gates, it will be a brief pause or not?
LEVIN: Do you use the term “brief”?
PETRAEUS: What Secretary Gates has described, as I understand it, is a brief period of consolidation and evaluation.
(CROSSTALK) LEVIN: He used the term “brief pause,” General.
LEVIN: At any rate, without going into that specifically, in February he used the term “brief pause.” But you’re not using the term “brief,” is that correct?
PETRAEUS: Sir, I’m not using the word “brief” nor the word “pause.”
What I stated was a 45-day period for consolidation and evaluation as to examine the situation on the ground, do the battlefield geometry, consult with Ambassador Crocker on what might be called the political-military calculus, and then conduct the assessments.
PETRAEUS: And when the assessment is at a point that the conditions are met to recommend reduction of forces, then that’s what we would do.
So, the bottom line, sir, is that it’s a — this period after which we do the assessments and as the conditions are met for further reductions, then we make those recommendations.
LEVIN: Now, do you have any estimate at all as to how long those two — that second period is going to take? Are you giving us any idea as to how long that will take? You say over time.
PETRAEUS: Sir, if…
LEVIN: Could that be a month, could that two months?
PETRAEUS: Sir, it could be less than that. It could be…
LEVIN: Could it be more than that?
PETRAEUS: It could be more than that. Again, it’s when the conditions are met that we can make a recommendation for further reductions.
LEVIN: Could it be three months?
PETRAEUS: Sir, again, at the end of the period of consolidation and evaluation, it could be right then. Or it could be longer. Again, it is one…
PROTESTER: Bring them home! Bring them home! Bring them home!
LEVIN: If you could please…
PROTESTER: Bring them back home!
LEVIN: We’re asking the audience…
PROTESTER: Bring them home! Bring them home!
LEVIN: If you could bring the gentleman out. I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask him to leave.
PROTESTER: Bring them home! Bring them home! Bring them home!
(APPLAUSE) Bring them home! Bring them home!
LEVIN: General, we’re going to ask you this question again. Could it be as long as three months?
PETRAEUS: Sir, it could be. It…
LEVIN: OK, that’s all I’m asking.
PETRAEUS: It is when the conditions are met.
LEVIN: I understand, but I’m just asking you a direct question: Could that be as long as three months?
PETRAEUS: It could be, sir.
LEVIN: Could it be as long as four months?
PETRAEUS: Sir, it is when the conditions are met, again.
LEVIN: Now, next question, if all goes well — if all goes well, what would be the approximate number of our troops there at the end of the year?
Let’s assume conditions permitted things to move quickly. What, in your estimate, would be the approximate number of American troops there at the end of the year?
Can you give us a — just say if you can’t give us an estimate.
PETRAEUS: Sir, I can’t — I can’t give you an estimate on that.
LEVIN: All right. You’re not going to give us an estimate on that.
Next question: General, an April 3rd article in the New York Times said that before the Iraqi government’s assault on the Mahdi Army in Basra, you counseled Prime Minister Maliki, quote, “We made a lot of gains in the past six to nine months that you’ll be putting at risk.” The article also states that you advised him not to rush into a fight without carefully sizing up the situation and making adequate preparations.
Now, did he follow your advice?
PETRAEUS: Sir, he laid out a plan that would, in fact, incorporate that advice. And…
LEVIN: All right. He followed your advice, then.
PETRAEUS: And once the forces got into Basra, they ended up going into action more quickly than was anticipated.
LEVIN: Would you say that Maliki followed your advice?
PETRAEUS: I would not. No, sir.
LEVIN: In your judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned? And were the preparations adequate?
In your professional judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned and were the preparations adequate?
PETRAEUS: Sir, there’s no question but that it could have been better planned and that the preparations could have been better. And we have already done initial after-action reviews on that in fact, there and also in Baghdad.
LEVIN: I understand the after — the report that came after. But I wonder if we could get a direct answer to your question — to my question. Could you give me a direct answer? In your judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned and were the preparations adequate? Could you give me a direct answer?
PETRAEUS: Sir, the answer is, again, it could have been much better planned. It was not adequately planned or prepared.
I mean, again, it was laid out to us. The objectives were described. And, in fact, the process, as it was laid out, was logical.
But I have not seen too many combat operations that have gone as they were planned, and this was not one either. The forces were deployed very rapidly and before all conditions were set as they might have been, they were in combat.
LEVIN: General, to summarize, in terms of where I think that testimony leads me to conclude that the — not to conclude — I will base my statement on your testimony.
It was inadequately planned. It was inadequately prepared. That led to the use and followed by the use of American troops on that kind of planning. That is totally unacceptable to me. And I think that this open-ended pause that you have recommended takes the pressure off Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their own country.