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U.S. To Cut Iraq Combat Troops

Just days after Iraq's elections, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday announced the first of what is likely to be a series of U.S. combat troop drawdowns in Iraq in 2006.

Rumsfeld delivered the news to U.S. troops in the former Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

"At the recommendation of our military commanders and in consultation with our coalition partners and with the Iraqi government, President Bush has authorized an adjustment in U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15," Rumsfeld said.

This is the first time Rumsfeld has said the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will dip below what has been the baseline for months – 138,000.

The secretary did not reveal the exact size of the reduction but Pentagon officials say it could be as many as 7,000 combat troops, CBS News Correspondent Susan Roberts reports. It means two Army brigades scheduled for tours — one from Fort Riley, Kan., the other now in Kuwait — will no longer deploy to Iraq.

The cuts, set for spring, come on top of the planned return of 20,000 troops sent to Iraq to help with election security.

Further reductions will be considered "at some point in 2006," after the new Iraqi government is in place and is prepared to discuss the future U.S. military presence, Rumsfeld added.

In other recent developments:

  • Gunmen Friday attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Adhaim, 35 miles north of Baqouba, killing eight soldiers and wounding seventeen, an Iraqi army officer said on condition he not be identified for fear of reprisal attacks. Earlier this month 19 Iraqi soldiers were killed in an ambush in Adhaim.
  • A suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt outside of a Shiite mosque in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing four others and wounding eight, the Diyala police said. Among the dead was a policeman guarding the mosque.
  • Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad on Friday when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick reports they were part of Task Force Baghdad, which patrols the capital.
  • Two Arab satellite television channels say that a diplomat and five other Sudanese have been kidnapped in Iraq. A Sudan Foreign Ministry spokesman appealed for their release.
  • Large demonstrations broke out across Iraq on Friday to denounce parliamentary elections that protesters called rigged in favor of the main religious Shiite coalition. Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions have demanded an international body review election fraud complaints. The United Nations rejected the idea.
  • The trial of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants adjourned Thursday until Jan. 24, completing a day of testimony in which an investigating judge said officials never saw evidence verifying Saddam's claims he was beaten while in U.S. custody. A lawyer for Saddam Hussein said he saw evidence his client had been abused.

    The Bush administration has insisted for some time that U.S. troops can start coming home once Iraqi soldiers are able to take over the fight, but the president has been forced to aggressively defend his Iraq strategy amid slumping public support and increasing pressure from Congress for a withdrawal plan.

    The American force peaked at 192,000 during the March 2003 invasion; the monthly low was 109,000 in January 2004.

    Earlier in Baghdad, Rumsfeld, on an unannounced trip to Iraq, was asked by reporters whether he had decided to hold back the deployment of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kansas, and the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, now in Kuwait.

    Rumsfeld would not answer directly, but then elaborated during his visit to Fallujah.

    Upon his arrival in the Iraqi capital Thursday, Rumsfeld met with Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad.

    This is Rumsfeld's 11th trip to Iraq since the war began.

    For the first time since the insurgency took hold in Iraq in midsummer 2003, Rumsfeld spent the night in the country. He previously had made Iraq day trips but spent the night in other countries in the region.

    The issue of troops reductions came up earlier during Rumsfeld's visit to Afghanistan.

    "Well, we're not going to withdraw precipitously. We're going to finish the important work that's being done there," he responded.

    During Rumsfeld's stop in Afghanistan, military officials said they were making good progress toward eliminating the Taliban resistance and al Qaeda terrorists who continue sporadical violence against U.S. troops.

    But some officers said the hostile forces are making some gains by acquiring more advanced weaponry, such as armor-piercing munitions, and improving their training and organization.

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