With Focus on Afghanistan, Iraq Drawdown Still Lurks

Odierno is seen during a handover ceremony in Baghdad, Jan. 13, 2010.
This week is all about Afghanistan - the uneasy partnership with President Karzai and the upcoming offensive in Kandahar - but that other war, Iraq, keeps hanging around.

First the delay in the Iraqi elections and then the dispute over the results has forced Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander in Iraq, to slow down his withdrawal plans, which are geared to meeting a deadline of getting down to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1.

There are currently 94,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, meaning Odierno will have to send 44,000 home over the next three and a half months to meet the deadline. Right now, it is still possible to move that many troops - but just barely. Any further delay in the drawdown will cause him to miss the deadline.

If Odierno were on schedule there would now be more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Instead there are 82,000 in Afghanistan, 12,000 less than Iraq. But more are going to Afghanistan every day and, regardless of what happens to Odierno's drawdown, there will soon be more American troops in Afghanistan than Iraq. That will make official the strategic shift which has taken place over the past year, elevating Afghanistan as the primary theater of war.

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Measured by dollars, the shift has already occurred. In February, the Pentagon spent $6.7 billion in Afghanistan and $5.5 billion in Iraq, the first time Afghan war costs have topped Iraq.

Tomorrow, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal are taking President Karzai to Fort Campbell, Ky. to meet members of the 101st Airborne who are on their way to Kandahar for the decisive battle of the Afghan. war The coming battle for Kandahar is as important to the outcome in Afghanistan as the battle for Baghdad was to Iraq.

Today, at the Pentagon, Gen. McChrystal said it would be the end of the year before the U.S. will know whether it's winning or losing in Kandahar.

More Coverage:

Obama: Tensions with Karzai "Simply Overstated"

Obama: I Am Accountable for Civilian Casualties

Kandahar Offensive "Make-or-Break" for U.S.

What Both Sides Want from Karzai's U.S. Visit

Terry McCarthy's Reports Embedded With a Marine Battalion

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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