United States President George W Bush, in an interview published on Monday, distanced himself from predictions US troops could begin leaving Iraq by the end of next summer, stating bluntly, "We don't set timetables."
"We don't set timetables in this administration because an enemy will adjust their tactics based upon perceived action by the United States," Bush told USA Today newspaper.
The comment followed a prediction made last week by the US commander of coalition forces in Iraq, General George Casey, who said that reinforcements currently being brought to Iraq could begin to leave the country in late summer.
Flanked by visiting Defence Secretary Robert Gates, the general told reporters, "I believe the projections are late summer," provided security in Baghdad showed signs of steady improvement.
But Bush stopped short of repeating the same assurance. In fact, he refused to rule out US forces remaining in Iraq even after January 20, 2009, when a new president will take over from Bush.
"This will be a long struggle," he remarked when asked if Iraq was going to be a problem for his successor.