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Clinton and Obama: Similar Iraq Plan, Similar Loopholes

(CBS)
From CBS News' Ryan Corsaro:

WASHINGTON -- Both of the campaigns for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are locked in a battle of political verbiage over each candidate's proposals to withdraw troops from Iraq, while still leaving it open-ended regarding the amount of troops that would remain there.

Clinton repeated her plan in a "major policy address" on the Iraq war today, which is to withdraw one to two brigades a month for a year if she becomes president.

Obama has said that if elected he would withdraw the same increments in a little over year – sixteen months to be exact.

However, when it comes to an exact number of troops that will remain in Iraq, both campaigns have made open-ended statements as to how many will remain for combat or security purposes.

"So, let me be clear," Clinton said today. "Under my plan, withdrawing from Iraq will not mean retreating from fighting terrorism in Iraq. That's why I will order small, elite strike forces to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq. This will protect Iraqi citizens, our allies, and our families right here at home."

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon, a Clinton staff member went into further detail on her statement.

"In terms of the exact size of the small force that would be there to deal with these residual missions, that's something that would really need to be determined at the time on the basis of consultation with the field commanders and the senior military leadership," said Clinton campaign national security director Lee Feinstein. "In terms of the schedule again, Senator Clinton has talked about a rate of one to two combat brigades a month. She said that she would hope she could have nearly all of our combat troops out within a year's time."

When pressed to clarify how small the strike force would be, Feinstein maintained that it would be left to military commanders to decide, but that "small is small."

The Clinton campaign continues to point at statements made by Obama's former top foreign policy advisor, Samantha Power, for an interview with the BBC in which she gave the same room for Obama to "revisit" his plan.

"What (Senator Obama) actually said, after meeting with the generals and meeting with intelligence professionals, is that you – at best case scenario – will be able to withdraw one to two combat brigades each month," Power told the BBC. "That's what they're telling him. He will revisit it when he becomes president."

Not only are the withdrawal rates nearly identical, but Obama's campaign also agrees that there will be residual troops left in Iraq and also gives no account to their size -- only their responsibilities.

"Senator Clinton has not been clear to my knowledge about the contours of her residuals," Obama aide Dr. Susan Rice told reporters today. "Senator Obama has been very clear about what residuals would do when he is commander in chief…protect our embassy and civilians working in Iraq, and secondly, he would retain in Iraq and the region an ability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda."

The only point that Rice made to differentiate the two plans was who would be targeted for counterstrikes, and was refuted by the Clinton campaign.

"Senator Clinton has indicated in the past that her residual would have much broader missions than that," said Rice, "including going after other terrorist organizations elsewhere in the region."

Feinstein called the accusation of Clinton calling for residual troops being required to go after other terrorist organizations not related to al Qaeda "false."