WASHINGTON (CNN) – Several top Senate Democrats Thursday expressed concerns about news reports that as many as 50,000 U.S. troops could remain in Iraq after President Obama fulfills his campaign pledge to pull all combat forces from that country, something that is now expected to happen by August of next year.
“That’s a little higher number than I expected,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, NV, the Senate’s top Democrat.
“It has to be done responsibly, we all agree. But 50,000 is more than I would have thought” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, NY, the third-ranking Senate Democrat. “We await justification for why that many are needed.”
Earlier this week, CNN reported that while the details of what shape U.S. forces will take in Iraq over the next many months remain unclear until a number of additional decisions are made—it’s expected that the President’s announcement Friday will call for the majority of combat forces to be withdrawn, leaving a residual force of as many as 50,000, largely in a training or advisory role.
The justification Reid is waiting for is likely to come at a White House meeting Thursday afternoon to which President Obama has summoned bipartisan leaders from the House and Senate to explain his plan for the reduction of forces in Iraq.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, (D-MI), who will attend the meeting, told CNN 50,000 is “somewhat larger” than what he expected even though he has always believed “a few tens of thousands” of troops would be needed for non-combat missions such as training and fighting terrorism.
Sen. Richard Durbin, the number two Democrat and a close Obama ally, said he’s anxious to get troops home but defended the administration saying it is “trying to strike the right balance” between ending the war and maintaining stability in Iraq.
Another person who will attend the meeting is the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain, AZ, who when he ran against Mr. Obama for president criticized his opponent’s plan to pull combat troops from Iraq.
“50,000 advisors is a lot of people and they will be in harm’s way. The American people should know that,” he told CNN. “That is not the campaign rhetoric that President Obama used, I’m happy to say.”
In an interview that aired Wednesday on MSNBC, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Rachel Maddow “,,, I don't know what the justification is for 50,000, a presence of 50,000 troops in Iraq. I do think that there's a need for some. I don't know that all of them have to be in country. They can be platformed outside. I'll just be interested to see what the president has to say. But I do think that - I would think a third of that, maybe 20,000, a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000.