August 08, 2005

Iraq Troop Levels

From the NYT:

In a classified briefing to senior Pentagon officials last month, the top American commander in the Middle East outlined a plan that would gradually reduce American forces in Iraq by perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 troops by next spring if conditions on the ground permitted, three senior military officers and Defense Department officials said this week.

The assessment by Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of the military's Central Command, tracks with a statement made last week by the top American general in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., that the Pentagon could make "some fairly substantial reductions" in troops by next spring and summer if the political process in Iraq remained on track and Iraqi forces assumed more responsibility for securing the country.

Together, the generals' appraisals offer some of the most concrete indications yet that the Pentagon is moving toward reducing American forces in Iraq. They also reflect the Bush administration's growing concerns over how the country's involvement in Iraq is influencing domestic considerations.

But in his assessment, given as part of a larger regional analysis, General Abizaid also warned that it is possible that the Pentagon might have to keep the current levels of about 138,000 American soldiers in Iraq throughout 2006 if security and political trends are unfavorable for a withdrawal. The number of troops will temporarily increase this December to provide security for Iraqi elections. And some troops leaving Iraq could be held in Kuwait as a reserve force.

Senior administration and Pentagon officials, as well as political leaders in both parties, say there is mounting anxiety over the $5 billion-a-month cost of the war, an overtaxed military, dismal recruiting in the Army and National Guard, dwindling public support for the operation, and a steadily growing number of casualties, punctuated this week by the death of 20 marines in two separate attacks in western Iraq.

"When you wake up in the morning and lose 14 marines, people say, 'What's going on?' " said Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and a Republican, referring to the attack on Wednesday, when an armored troop carrier hit three stacked mines. "This is a very complicated equation." Mr. Gingrich, a member of a Pentagon advisory panel, said military casualties in Iraq could play a prominent role in next fall's Congressional elections.

President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have insisted that United States troops will remain in Iraq as long as necessary and that there is no set timetable for withdrawal. But the war in Iraq and possible troop reductions are expected to come up when Mr. Rumsfeld and other top national security aides meet with the president at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Thursday.

With some prodding by American officials, a shift in thinking and public pronouncements from Iraqi leaders is also unfolding in Baghdad. On Thursday, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari outlined a new, 12-point security plan for the country promising to better coordinate the work of the Ministries of Defense and Interior, to improve intelligence and protect infrastructure more effectively.

Also last week, a new commission that includes General Casey and the new American ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as the Iraqi defense and interior ministers, held its first meeting to define the conditions to be met for a phased American troop withdrawal.

The commission, whose recommendations are due to Mr. Jaafari by Sept. 26, said in a statement that the main measurement will be the ability of the 176,000 Iraqi military and police forces now in place to assume enhanced security roles. Other considerations include the size and strength of the insurgency, and the ability of the new Iraqi government to take on governance duties.

After meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld in Baghdad two weeks ago, Mr. Jaafari reiterated that there was no firm timetable for an American withdrawal but added that Iraqis "desire speed in that regard."

American military planners continue to refine their future requirements for troops. But under the current thinking, as reflected in briefings that General Abizaid and General Casey have provided to Mr. Rumsfeld, the number of American troops would temporarily increase in December to about 160,000 troops, an increase achieved through overlapping the normal rotation of incoming forces and those who have finished their tours, to provide security for elections to a new National Assembly, scheduled for Dec. 15.

I'm heartened to see there will be a short term increase towards year end in troop levels and that conditionality for withdrawal (status of train and equip, size/strength of insurgency, new Iraqi government's democratic bearing and viability) appears to be for real rather than merely for face-saving, public consumption. Still, I can't help thinking that, while not giving a direct 'lifeline' to terrorists and insurgents by providing an exact exit timetable--there is still amidst all this talk of potential '06 draw-downs some comfort to be had by the insurgents. That said, this could also be about focusing the minds (particularly of the Sunnis) that American forces may not be around forever, so as to help Sunnis better think about what their future might be like in a post heavy U.S. presence Iraq, not least so that they are dealing at the constitutional negotiating table with a greater sense of urgency. At the end of the day, however, it's all about how the conditionality will be adjudged. The test must be having an Iraqi Army armed with the requisite equipment, with a multi-ethnic officer corps, with enlisted men truly willing to stand and fight a savage foe (forces that are not overly infiltrated by enemy groupings); a sense that political governance structgures are adequately maturing and enshrining real minority rights, and a materially weakened insurgency that can more and more be fought head on by new Iraqi forces operating without U.S. back-up. Is it just me, or is it somewhat hard to see this all coming about in spring '06 in convincing fashion?

Posted by Gregory at August 8, 2005 01:05 PM | TrackBack (29)

I am of course speaking ex ano based on my impressions from the news, but it seems that Iraqi forces are increasingly doing a good deal of the heavy lifting in the Baghdad metro area. I would think that the plan is probably going to be to get to the point in which American forces are confined to "the restive Al Anbar province."

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at August 8, 2005 02:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am of course speaking ex ano based on my impressions from the news, but it seems that Iraqi forces are increasingly doing a good deal of the heavy lifting in the Baghdad metro area. I would think that the plan is probably going to be to get to the point in which American forces are confined to "the restive Al Anbar province."

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at August 8, 2005 02:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, Greg, it's not just you. The objectives do in fact appear very difficult ones to meet. But what are the alternatives?

There isn't an ocean in the world where "staying the course" indefinitely will not lead you onto the rocks sooner or later. The great weakness in the Bush administration's stated objectives for Iraq was always that only Iraqis could achieve them -- at some point we have to find out whether they can, or can't.

Posted by: JEB at August 8, 2005 05:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The test must be...


Why can't the test simply be the extent to which the Iraqi security forces can protect their own government? If they can do that without "requisite equipment," or without "a multi-ethnic officer corps," or without "a sense that political governance structgures are adequately maturing and enshrining real minority rights," why should we (and what right do we have to) stay? Are we really obliged to stay until we are satisfied that they have enshrined the perfect balance of majority rule and minority rights? How long do you think that will be?

Posted by: Al at August 8, 2005 05:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Increasing troop strength for the Iraq election would stretch our troop 'tighter than a gnats ass over an oil barrell.' It could be done, but if you think the war is unpopular now, just wait until daddy gets his Christmas deployment orders.

The 20,000 to 30,000 trop reduction seems likely. The administration will predictably act to move Iraq off the front page as much as is possible before Election 2006. Also look for a suspension of combat major activities...ceding large areas back to insurgent control, and to a reduction of regular patrols...allowing the insurgents the freedom to reposition. Our troops will be confined to base whenever possible.

These actions will be reversed after Election 2006, but with a higher price to be paid in both American and Iraqi casualties. Still, there is an election to be won, and the casualty bill comes due well after the fact.

Call me cynical, but I've seen this movie before.

Posted by: James Emerson at August 8, 2005 07:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As we speak gentlemen,General Abizaid and Casey have decided NOT to replace 1 NG regiment in Diyala Province with anymore US troopers when they exit in October.

Further,we are sending or have sent a substantial portion of Mosul's Stryker brigade to Rawah. Last time we left Mosul,it exploded. I'm confident General Casey is aware of that and has decided we can allow the IA&IP handle more up in that large,critical city.

The IA is coming online more each month,they are the reason we are now prepared to strike out to the Syrian border and stay in the area. They have provided the "we need more troops" instead of the ignorance of 1965 military policy which DID provide more US troops to fight South Vietnam's fight.

Some people learn from history,some don't.

It would be nice to have an extra US battalion or 2 in Anbar right now tonight,but at the end of the day,we either force them to fight their fight or WE lose. I applaud General Abizaid and Sec. Rumsfeld,they've sat and listened to the entire nation lecture them to follow General Westmoreland's theory of victory in guerilla warfare and ignored the calls for a repeat of that disaster.

Posted by: Patrick at August 9, 2005 12:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


It is my opinion we will not see the secular,democratic Iraq we hoped to.

Just too many strong currents resisting it.

I predict we leave with a less than perfect option,but a greatly improved one from pre 2003.

Posted by: Patrick at August 9, 2005 12:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

James is right. Come hell or high water 20-30 000 troops are coming home before the mid-terms next year.

Posted by: tom at August 9, 2005 04:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Patrick - if training up IA and IP was the strategy all along, why did effective training await Petraeus taking over that effort in early 2004? Why did we send ill trained Iraqis into the fray in april 2004?

I agree that the way to victory NOW is Iraqi forces, not a big ramp up of US forces. But I dont think that necessarily justifies the entire Rumsfeld strategy.

There is also the question of how fast, and under what criteria, we get out now. Do we use the newly trained Iraqi forces in Diyala, Mosul, etc to finally put enough troops into Anbar to make a real difference wrt the insurgency, or do we stand down as soon as they stand up? Thats the question under discussion now. If the Iraqis have, in spring 2006, say 100,000 troops, reasonably well trained BY THIRD WORLD standards, but far from equivalent to US troops, do we A. Pull out 100,000 US troops or B. Pull out 10 to 20,000 US troops? ALternatively, if they have only say, 20,000 troops who are really capable of operating independently, do we A. Pull out 20,000 troops or B. Pull out none, and acknowledge it will take more time?

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 9, 2005 03:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is NOT Rumsfeld's strategy,get that out of your head,it is the strategy developed by General John Abizaid and his staff,which includes General Casey,SOCOM US Army current field commander and a SMART one,too.

Rumsfeld's input was to force Franks to do more with less,utilize SOCOM as we never have before,but the general view of fighting guerilla combat since May,2003 is the product of those running the war on the ground.

These men are brilliant men and honorable soldiers,very experienced,Abizaid is an Arab who has lived among Arab bedouins to prepare himself to serve.

My opinion is that they felt all along that more is less because more are more targets for IED's&accidents,but not more for killing terrorists because we always kill them when we KNOW who and where they are anyway. We do not lack for combat firepower generally,we lack for Iraqi police or IA to fill in the gap when we exit.

The strategy is obvious(to me)it is to continue to spread out our combat ability to offer the terrorists eventually NOWHERE to hide,that is exactly what we have been doing for the last couple of months along the Euphrates river on both sides.

We,for the first time since we arrived,now have a base in Rawah on the south side of the Euphrates,from that base,the Marines and Army have a logistical hub to CONSTANTLY harrass the enemy according to Carter Ham "all the way to Syria",heretofore they had a sanctuary along the Euphrates River west of Ramadi. THIS is why we have an uptick in casualties,IMO.

I watch this closely,we have slowly,but surely turned over every month lately BASES we had established to the IA. TODAY,we gave them Camp Scunion in Baquba,formerly "Indian Territory":

We are abandoning Diyala Province to them entirely,I know this,I know soldiers there right now.

We have given them many bases in Baghdad,when we do this it means WE leave that area to them. It happens almost weekly,the progress is PALPABLE to me. I promise it is to Casey.

Why did we fail to properly train IA early on??? I don't sincerely know all the answers. General Eaton admitted we failed for 1 entire year to properly train them.

I think it was a combination of things:

1)Ignorance(ours) . We recruited and sent to duty stations guys say from Fallujah to fight in Fallujah. DUH. Now we know better.

2)Your best trainers are SOCOM soldiers and unfortunately,they're ALL busy killing Islamic terrorists across the globe tonight,so we turned to some private firms and some of their staff was less than tops.

3)We don't know Iraqi society.

We have drastically improved 1&3 by letting them pick and choose soldiers. #2 is not remediable.

The IA right now doesn't have proper equipment. It isn't as easy as giving it to them,you have to train repairmen,medics,pilots etc and they're doing it in a WARZONE.

Finally,we're going to partner with their battalions,so we will have advisors serving in an IA battalion like we did in Vietnam with men like Schwartzkopf.

Myself,I see progress everytime an area is handed to them. We just took a large part of the MOSUL based Stryker brigade to RAWAH for instance,they're IA&IP have to fill in the gap.They are the reason WE can leave certain areas and attack the last sanctuaries of the terrorists out west. We sent an Army battalion from Baquba to Ramadi to help in that town just recently,we couldn't have done that in May,2004.

The training debacle is the biggest error,we are making progress,but if our only measure of progress is when does Zarqawi run out of cars and volunteers to explode them,well that will be a decade from now. Factually,we cannot prevent that happening right here in America,but they cannot rule us if we do not allow it,same with Iraq.

Posted by: Patrick at August 10, 2005 12:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"We,for the first time since we arrived,now have a base in Rawah on the south side of the Euphrates,from that base,the Marines and Army have a logistical hub to CONSTANTLY harrass the enemy according to Carter Ham "all the way to Syria",heretofore they had a sanctuary along the Euphrates River west of Ramadi. THIS is why we have an uptick in casualties,IMO."

if having a base in Rawah is a good thing, and not just another target, why wouldnt it have been a good thing 6 months ago?

Of course we can only kill insurgents when we have intell. But the more boots on the ground, who stay and patrol a place, the safer the locals feel, and the MORE intell you get, I would think.

Im really not sure that Gen Abuzaid wouldnt have wanted more troops. Its not his job to go around in public decrying the strategic parameters established by the SecDef. When the war is over, and these guys are retired, we'll know.

I AM concerned over what happens in Spring of 2006, after the next couple of rounds of Iraqi elections. If Abuzaid says he needs to keep 130,000 US troops, PLUS the IA and IP personnel, to crush the insurgency, and Rummy thinks he wants the troops available for elsewhere, and he wants to establish the precedent of quick in and quick out, and he doesnt want his high tech "break things" force absorbed in grubby nation building, will he insist on withdrawls, and then expect Abuzaid et al to toe the line in public?

Let me say this - IF we withdraw troops quickly, and then Iraq collapses, and the generals say they wanted more troops, and Rummy claims they didnt, Im not going to be real inclined to believe Rummy.

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 10, 2005 03:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"we are making progress,but if our only measure of progress is when does Zarqawi run out of cars and volunteers to explode them,well that will be a decade from now. "

Measures of progress

1. Id to see fewer than 50 Iraqi deaths at the hands of insurgents a week. Of which fewer than 10 a week in metro Baghdad.
2. Id like to see the road to the baghdad airport be considered safe.
3. Id like to see Iraqi oil exports consistenly over 2 million barrels a day.
4. Id like to see electric power availability in Bagdad consistently over its prewar level. For the rest of the country, well over.

think we can manage that in less than a decade?

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 10, 2005 03:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The answer to your questions in the last post is an emphatic NO,we cannot achieve those goals. It's not our responsibility to do so with our children.

The IA and IP can as the Algerian Army and Police have. As I see it,it is the responsibility of Americans to give the IA enough breathing space for the nation to settle their constitution,stabilize the new government via permanent elections this October and NOTHING else.

Why did we have to wait until 6 months ago to forge a base in Rawah? Actually,it was not even 6 months ago,but the answer is we now have the IA forces to replace where our Army and Marines WERE having to hold positions.
Fairly simple,if you think the Iraqi violence is going to die out sooner than the Algerian or the Afghani after the USSR left,I would say you are naive. WHY would you think it would?

For sure,Algeria would have been handed to the violent ones probably 7 years ago if the typical American's patience led the way,instead they have whipped the terrorists there.

Posted by: Patrick at August 11, 2005 11:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by