Bush: No Timetable For Iraq

President Bush pauses as he reads a letter written by a Marine before he was killed in Iraq at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005.
AP
In what was billed as a major speech on Iraq, President Bush said Wednesday that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in battle but that "this will take time and patience."

But Mr. Bush refused again to set a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, saying conditions in Iraq will dictate when American forces can come home. He said setting a deadline to pull out is "not a plan for victory."

Mr. Bush said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is set to change, by making fewer patrols and convoys, moving out of Iraqi cities and focusing more on specialized operations aimed at high-value terrorist targets.

"As Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop level in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists," the president told a supportive audience at the U.S. Naval Academy.

But Mr. Bush was emphatic in stating that the decision on troop levels will be made by American commanders and "not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington," reports CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller.

Even before the president finished speaking, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid issued a statement claiming that Mr. Bush "recycled his tired rhetoric of 'stay the course' and once again missed an opportunity to lay out a real strategy for success in Iraq that will bring our troops safely home."

The Nevada senator charged that Mr. Bush failed to meet a call by the Senate to tell Americans the administration's strategy for success in Iraq.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi embraced a call by a prominent defense hawk in her party to immediately begin a withdrawal. Two weeks ago, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., set off a firestorm when he said a complete pullout should be achieved in six months.

"The status quo is not working," Pelosi said Wednesday.

"There needs to be a full-court press of information available" to Congress and the public, agreed Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

In his speech, Mr. Bush openly acknowledged that Iraqi forces have not always performed well in combat but have made substantial progress in the past year. He said there had "some setbacks in standing up a capable Iraqi security force, and their performance is still uneven in some areas."

CBS News correspondent Lara Logan reports that Iraqi soldiers complain they have to buy their own uniforms and pay for their own body armor because the government equipment is such poor quality. One commanding officer told her that the terrorists are better armed than they are.

Some military analysts wonder if the mission to defeat terrorists will ever be complete, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts. A team from the Army War College warned this week that the U.S. may never be able to train an Iraqi force capable of securing the entire country — regardless of how long the troops stay.