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U.S. to cut Iraq force in half in 19 mos.

From Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube
U.S. military and administration officials tell NBC News that President Obama is expected to announce that more than half of the American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq within 19 months.

The plan, expected to be announced later this week, would draw down the number of forces from the current 142,000 to around 50,000.

Although the plan falls short of Obama's campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, one senior military official said, "It's close."

The official also points out, however, that the remaining force of 50,000 would still contain a sizeable "combat element" to provide rapid reaction assistance to Iraqi combat forces and force protection for the remaining American troops and U.S. government civilians.

The sources say the 19-month timetable was one of three options presented to President Obama for the withdrawal of forces -- 16, 19 and 23-month withdrawal plans.

A senior military official said that it was up to the president to weigh the risks in withdrawal and "the shorter the timetable the greater the risk" to U.S. forces and Iraqi security.

The officials also point out that the 19-month timetable is also contingent on the "conditions at the ground."

According to a senior military official, "We're looking into a crystal ball here. The 19-month withdrawal is based on assumptions -- (on improved security) -- and if those assumptions don't hold up, all bets are off, and we'd have to adjust."