WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama needs to clarify what he means by promising a "responsible" withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, an independent US auditor's report said Tuesday.
"The new administration has emphasized the importance of a responsible drawdown of US forces but has not yet defined this term," said the report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.
Last month, Obama announced a new approach in Iraq in which most of the 140,000 US combat troops there would be withdrawn by the end of August 2010.
A force of up to 50,000 would remain until the end of 2011, when an agreement between Baghdad and Washington requires all US troops to leave.
"In further defining this strategy and revising the Joint Campaign Plan for Iraq, the administration will need to clarify what conditions need to be met to undertake this drawdown responsibly," said the GAO report.
The administration should be "prioritizing the conditions that would allow US troops to draw down" and "should also consider how the United States would respond if it does not achieve the conditions necessary for a responsible drawdown within the security agreement timetable" agreed by the United States and Iraq.
The GAO said the logistics of withdrawing tens of thousands of troops within two years and "the removal of equipment and material will be a massive and expensive effort."
The US government also needs to outline diplomatic and civilian efforts that will replace the American military mission, which undertook many traditionally civilian tasks in Iraq, according to the GAO.
As US spending on reconstruction projects is scaled back, the Iraqi government will need to devote more of its revenue on public services and development, it said.
"As US reconstruction efforts end, Iraq will need to develop the capacity to spend its resources, particularly on investment that will further economic development and deliver essential services to its people," said the GAO, adding that Iraq had an estimated budget surplus of 47 billion at the end of last year.
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