The Bush administration says it is not contemplating curtailing the current surge of US forces in Iraq, as it prepares its first report on the surge due this week to an increasingly skeptical Congress.
Both here and at the White House, officials steered reporters away from a New York Times story that says senior officials are discussing changing the Iraq strategy President Bush announced in January. White House spokesman Tony Snow put it this way.
"There is no intensifying discussion about reducing troops."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman acknowledged that Defense Secretary Robert Gates postponed a trip to Latin America in order to participate in policy meetings on Iraq this week. He said discussions are going on about what he called "the way ahead" in Iraq. And he reported that Secretary Gates participated in a national security team meeting early Monday morning, after meeting with the commander of US forces in the Middle East, Admiral William Fallon.
But Whitman also noted that the latest security operation in Iraq is just three weeks old, and began as soon as all the extra forces President Bush ordered to Iraq had arrived.
"What this department is focused on is implementing the full capabilities that the surge forces are giving the commanders on the ground."
Whitman dismissed comments by a growing number of Republican members of Congress, who have said the new Iraq strategy is not working and needs to be changed.
"None of those people seem to be our military commanders on the ground. And I think that they're probably in the best position to be able to make some determinations as to how well the strategy is working."
Whitman noted that during the last few weeks several senior US commanders in Iraq have reported significant improvements in security because of the larger number of troops they have. The generals have also warned against reducing the number of US troops before the situation is stabilized and Iraqi forces are able to take control.
The Pentagon spokesman said this week's report will be a "a snapshot at the front end of the surge capability." White House spokesman Tony Snow added that the next report, in September, will be more likely to present a coherent view of how the new strategy is working, and will offer recommendations from senior military officers and diplomats about how to proceed. He said "the surge is not an open-ended commitment," but it is premature to judge it now.
"What we do hope is that the surge, in fact, will achieve its results as quickly as possible so we can get to a point where we draw down American forces, and we can get to a point where they recede into different kinds of roles than they've been fulfilling in recent months."
Also on Monday, Iraq's foreign minister said he has warned members of the US Congress of what he called "the dangers of a quick pullout," which he said would leave behind "a security vacuum." The US Senate began its annual debate on the defense budget Monday, a debate which is expected to be fueled by the administration's July and September reports on Iraq.