February 27, 2009

President Barack Obama heeded the US military’s advice in deciding to postpone by three months the pullout of most US troops from Iraq beyond a promised 16-month deadline, his defense secretary said Friday.

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Obama chose to slow the pace of withdrawal after hearing the views of the commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief told reporters.

“Frankly, this is where both the chairman and I thought this should come out,” Gates said in a telephone conference.

“And it was a very thorough, deliberative process where a lot of different options and a lot of different analysis were examined,” he said.

Military commanders in Iraq, “particularly General Odierno,” expressed concern that pulling out under the 16-month timeline by May 2010 could leave US forces short-handed at a sensitive time after crucial national elections in December, he said.

“The real concern has been, how do we get through this year and all of the elections that will take place, beginning with the district and sub-district elections early in the summer, the national elections at the end of the year, and have a period of adjustment after those national elections to make sure people are accepting the results,” Gates said.

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