2. Republican senator John Warner of Virginia, meeting chairman, opening hearing
3. Witness table with General George Casey, Senior Coalition Forces Commander, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, General Richard B. Myers, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General John Abizaid, Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander
4. SOUNDBITE (English) General John Abizaid, CENTCOM Commander:
"Importantly, this enemy seeks to acquire weapons of mass destruction and will certainly use such weapons if they obtain them. They experimented with anthrax in Afghanistan, they tried to develop crude chemical weapons in Afghanistan. They're always talking about how they might develop a radiological dispersal device. If they could buy or acquire a nuclear weapon, they would. This not my guess, this is what they say."
5. Senator Warner listening
6. Witness table
7. SOUNDBITE (English) General George Casey, Senior Coalition Forces Commander (audio partly overlaid with cutaways)
"Today we expect to have 60 to 70 thousand more Iraqi security forces available for referendum security than we had in the January elections. By the elections in December we expect that to rise to about one hundred thousand more Iraqi security forces available for election security. As a result, I only asked for two thousand additional forces to help us with this year's election process as compared to twelve thousand that I asked for for the January's election process."
8. Witness table
9. Wide of witness table
10. Senators Levin and Warner at committee table
11. SOUNDBITE (English) Carl Levin, Democratic Senator, Michigan:
"Are you projecting now on any assumptions you want to make that there will be a draw-down (reduction) of any American forces starting next spring. Are you making that projection at this time?"
12. SOUNDBITE: (English) General George Casey, Senior Coalition Forces Commander:
"As I said, Senator, reductions in coalition forces, condition based reductions of coalition forces, is a critical element of our strategy. And we certainly do look to do that over the course of next year."
13. SOUNDBITE: (English) Carl Levin, Senator, Michigan:
"And, are you projecting that those conditions would exist next spring as of this time?"
14. SOUNDBITE: (English) General George Casey, Senior Coalition Forces Commander:
"Senator, the next 75 days are going to be critical, in what happens after that. And so I'd like to wait until we get through this political process here to give you a better assessment of that."
15. Democratic senator Edward Kennedy
16. Republican senator John McCain
17. SOUNDBITE (English) Donald H. Rumsfeld US, Secretary of Defence: (audio partly overlaid with cutaways):
"The economic, political and security all have to go forward together. And, to the extent there's a failure on the economic or political side, it makes the security situation in an insurgency environment more difficult. That means, there isn't an answer to your question (about the readiness level of the Iraqi security forces for a "fairly substantial" pullout of US troops) where you could say 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent. I don't believe."
Senior US military chiefs appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday to defend the ongoing US presence in Iraq, in the face of diminishing support in the US Senate.
General John Abizaid, the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) detailed Al-Qaida plans for the Middle East, including the takeover of Saudi Arabia and the establishment of a "kalifate" (Islamic territory) from Afghanistan to Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Abizaid warned lawmakers that Al-Qaida is the main enemy to peace and stability in the Middle East and the terrorist group is seeking to acquire, and use, weapons of mass destruction there.
US troops could begin coming home from Iraq next year, but it depends on conditions during and after the upcoming elections there, the top US commander in Iraq told Congress on Thursday.
The remarks by General George Casey, Senior Coalition Forces Commander, represented a softening of his earlier assessment that a "fairly substantial" pullout could begin next spring and summer.
Casey said the result of the upcoming Iraqi referendum on a new constitution on October 15 and December elections will affect whether conditions on the ground will be appropriate for withdrawing US troops.
Casey, the most senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq, and General John Abizaid, the commander of US Central Command, were testifying before the Senate and House Armed Services committees.
Casey said the insurgents will try to affect the political process in the coming weeks but he said they would not win.
By the December elections, he said, the number of Iraqi security forces available will rise to 100,000, allowing the United States to ask for only 2,000 more US troops compared with the 12,000 extra needed during last January's elections.
While the Bush administration has refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, Casey has repeatedly said a "fairly substantial" pullout could begin next spring and summer as long as the political process stayed on track, the insurgency did not expand and the training of Iraqi security forces continued as planned.
Also testifying was US Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Richard B. Myers, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Rumsfeld said it is impossible to separate political and economic stability from the security situation in Iraq, saying they must "go forward together".
In response to a question about the readiness level of the Iraqi security forces for a possible substantial pullout of US troops, Rumsfeld told the committee that the figures look good, but that there are intangible elements that impact their overall readiness.
President Bush sent the group to Capitol Hill for back-to-back House and Senate hearings to try to convince lawmakers, and their sceptical constituents, that the United States is making progress in the war despite slipping support at home.