Tuesday, September 26, 2006

We are not standing down. So, what have we stood up?

George W. Bush has intoned time and again that the United States will deploy out of Iraq when there is an Iraqi army and police force ready to take the fight to terrorists and insurgents. We will stand down when the Iraqis stand up. This mantra has been both the military strategy for concluding our prominent role in Iraq and this has been the political tactic designed to maintain support for the conflict and the administration that has lead it.

There are aspects to this plan that are sensible. It has the capacity to follow one noteworthy theory of counterinsurgency: develop a local security force to attack the insurgency and create a favorable political environment. Additionally, this strategy had a level of experimentation apparently built into it. The United States could withdraw small numbers of its military personnel and test the ability of the Iraq army and police forces. The initial plan was that about 30,000 U.S. troops would leave Iraq at the conclusion of this year, leaving a force of 100,000 in the country to augment the native security elements. The Christian Science Monitor:
Late last year, US military officials said they hoped the number of US troops on the ground could be cut to the 100,000 level by the end of 2006. But like so many other US expectations about progress in the region, that turned out to be overly optimistic.

A surge in sectarian violence, and continued insurgent activity, means that the US force in Iraq will stay at current levels through the beginning of next year, Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of US Central Command, told a group of military reporters in Washington this week.

"We clearly did not achieve the force levels we had hoped to," said General Abizaid.
Now, General John Abizaid says that the United States will not drawdown the total number of United States military personnel until the Spring of 2007. In fact, there may actually be troop increases. Yesterday, there was an indication that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq would increase, as a brigade of the 1st Armored Division was held for several weeks, AP. This is the second brigade presently in Iraq under an extension of its tour -- the first was a Stryker brigade based in Alaska and currently in Baghdad.

At this point, we should address the idea of standing down when the Iraqi army and police stands up as a military strategy in itself.

The military strategy...

The United States and the existing Iraq government now face a "tipping point" battle in the streets of Baghdad, according to General Barry McCaffrey, Washington Times. That article states the military situation in Iraq is as follows:
Non-deployed combat brigades are experiencing low readiness ratings due mostly to a lack of usable weapons and equipment. The wear and tear in Iraq is ruining M1A1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvee vehicles and other equipment at such a fast pace that the Army has neither the money nor the industrial base to replace them. A unit's functioning weapons systems are left in Iraq for use by replacement soldiers, leaving the stateside brigade well below the highest combat rating, according to Army officials and retired officers.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, this summer asked Congress for nearly $50 billion over three years to replace broken equipment in a process known as "resetting" the force.

"We have inadequate Army and Marine Corps combat power to sustain this level of deployment," said retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a highly decorated Vietnam combatant who led the 24th Infantry Division in Desert Storm.

Gen. McCaffrey, who has traveled to Iraq in his role as a West Point professor, said the Army needs an immediate infusion of 80,000 new soldiers added to the active force of about 500,000.
The aforementioned Christian Science Monitor article also stated:
Meanwhile, the pace of deployments to Iraq has battered the US military, particularly the Army and Marine Corps.

Army officials would like to have a cushion of two brigades training and resting at home for every one brigade of approximately 3,500 personnel deployed overseas. But real-world conditions have meant the actual ratio is one brigade at home to one overseas.

In practical terms, this means that active-duty brigades get only one year at home in between tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, as opposed to the goal of two years.
The New York Times reports on one division:
The enormous strains on equipment and personnel, because of longer-than-expected deployments, have left active Army units with little combat power in reserve. The Second Brigade, for example, has only half of the roughly 3,500 soldiers it is supposed to have. The unit trains on computer simulators, meant to recreate the experience of firing a tank’s main gun or driving in a convoy under attack.

“It’s a good tool before you get the equipment you need,” Colonel James said. But a few years ago, he said, having a combat brigade in a mechanized infantry division at such a low state of readiness would have been “unheard of.”

Other than the 17 brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan, only two or three combat brigades in the entire Army — perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops — are fully trained and sufficiently equipped to respond quickly to crises, said a senior Army general.

Most other units of the active-duty Army, which is growing to 42 brigades, are resting or being refitted at their home bases. But even that cycle, which is supposed to take two years, is being compressed to a year or less because of the need to prepare units quickly to return to Iraq.

After coming from Iraq in 2003, the Third Infantry Division was sent back in 2005. Then, within weeks of returning home last January, it was told by the Army that one of its four brigades had to be ready to go back again, this time in only 11 months. The three other brigades would have to be ready by mid-2007, Army planners said.
Other recent stories raise alarm.

The New York Times: "Strained, Army Looks to Guard for More Relief"

The Los Angeles Times: "Army Warns Rumsfeld It's Billions Short"

The situation in Iraq continues to degrade, while the United States military approaches a point of great uncertainty. So, how are those Iraqi formations looking at the very moment they are needed most? The Jerusalem Post:
The US needs roughly 3,000 more Iraqi forces to join the battle in Baghdad, but requests for the troops have not been met because Iraqi soldiers are reluctant to leave their home regions, the commander of US forces in Baghdad said Friday.

Maj. Gen. James Thurman told Defense Department reporters that while the US has 15,000 troops in Baghdad - which military leaders say is the priority battlefront in Iraq - there are only about 9,000 Iraqi soldiers there. That is just a fraction of the 128,000 Iraqi Army troops that the US says are now trained and equipped.
I can only speculate on why Iraqi troops are unwilling to move into Baghdad. Perhaps these troops do not want to risk their lives in this situation. Perhaps they do not want to move far away from family members and friends. Perhaps some of these troops feel less obligation to their country than they do to their tribe. It is most likely that a number of factors are involved in their unwillingness to deploy.

Whatever the motivation behind this absence of Iraqi troops in Baghdad, it is an indication (among many other indications) that the strategy of standing up Iraqi formations to free American personnel to leave Iraq is not working at present.

In fact, this strategy seems to be failing to an incredible extent.

The president has said that there are more than 100,000 Iraqi security personnel trained and ready to fight. (160,000 in June 2005.) (250,000 volunteers in April 2006.) Apparently, U.S. commanders want a brigade (3,000) of Iraqis in Baghdad. According to Colonel Devlin's report on al Anbar, the United States needs an additional division to fight an effective counterinsurgency in that province. These forces are not available from the United States military. In fact, the U.S. has to keep the Stryker brigade in Baghdad and one brigade of the 1st Armored division in al Anbar. The plan to stand up Iraqi forces and then leave Iraq has not suceeded. Either the plan remains valid and its execution was faulty, or the plan itself was faulty.

What the plan did have as an important advantage was the ability to take small steps toward the goal to test its viability. In May 2006, an infantry brigade was held for a brief period of time, the Washington Post. This was, perhaps, the last optimistic deployment change before the 2006 elections.

However, the fact that these small drawdowns have not been possible is a metric indicating that the overall strategy is not working.

In Januray 2006, an independent report commissioned by the Pentagon yielded caution. It was dismissed by the adminsitration. The Guardian:
The US army is being stretched, by its deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, into a "thin green line" in danger of breaking before the insurgents are defeated, claims a report commissioned by the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a former army officer who wrote the report, said that the army could not sustain the current pace of deployments - which was likely in the end to discourage recruitment.

"This is the central, and as yet unanswerable, question the army must confront. Vigorous efforts should be make to enable a substantial drawdown in US force levels. The army ... cannot sustain the force levels desired to sustain the momentum needed to break the back of the insurgent movement," the report says.

Mr Krepinevich, who runs a Washington thinktank, the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, also suggested the administration lacked a clear strategy.
In his report presented as "an interim assessment" of the Iraq, he writes: "Without a clear strategy in Iraq it is difficult to draft clear metrics for gauging progress. This may be why some senior political and military leaders have made overly optimistic or even contradictory declarations regarding the war's progress."

The secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, said he had not read the report, but said from what he heard of it, "It's just not consistent with the facts."
Clear metrics for gauging progress seem to remain absent. Metrics for gauging the degradation of security are emerging in brutal clarity.

The political tactic...

The political tactic of intoning mantras and what must be overinflated combat readiness numbers cannot work forever. The president of the United States brought us into the war in Iraq, and now the majority of Americans believe that war was a mistake. The president assured us that he had a plan, and the right people in place to execute that plan, to bring American military personnel home and to restore order in Iraq. As the Iraqi security forces stood up, we would stand down. Iraq would become a stable, prosperous democracy and a reliable ally in the war on terror.

Iraq has become a breeding ground for myriad terrorist factions. Aspiring jihadists can be recruited and trained in the country. America's combat commitment to Iraq is now increasing. The Iraqi army and police force are not producing enough results for this strategy to be deemed a success.

Yesteray the AP reported:
BAGHDAD -- The plan was simple: Iraqi troops would block escape routes while U.S. soldiers searched for weapons house by house. But the Iraqi troops didn't show up on time.

When they finally did appear, the Iraqis ignored U.S. orders and let dozens of cars -- including an ambulance full of armed militiamen -- pass through checkpoints in eastern Baghdad, American soldiers said in recent interviews.

It wasn't an isolated incident, they added.

U.S. commanders have hailed the performance of Iraqi troops in the crackdown on militias and insurgents in Baghdad. But some U.S. soldiers say the Iraqis serving alongside them are among the worst they've ever seen -- seeming more loyal to militias than the government.

Last week, for example, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Sheehan discovered that barriers and concertina wire that were supposed to bolster defensive positions had been dragged away -- again -- under the noses of nearby Iraqi soldiers.

I "suggest we fire these IAs and get them out of the way," Sgt. Sheehan, of Jennerstown, Pa., reported to senior officers, referring to Iraqi army troops.

"There's nothing we can do," came the reply.

U.S. soldiers from the 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment eventually blocked the road again while Iraqi troops watched from a distance.

Some Americans speculated that the missing barriers were dragged off to strengthen militia defenses in nearby Sadr City, a sprawling Shi'ite neighborhood that is a stronghold of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"They've been doing this all week. They're working against us," said Sgt. Sheehan, who woke up the senior Iraqi officer at the checkpoint to complain -- futilely.

During another mission, Iraqi soldiers were suspected of looting the house of a wealthy resident, U.S. troops said.

Some Americans said they had seen much better Iraqi troops in the northern cities of Mosul and Tal-Afar, which have more Kurdish soldiers. They have been disappointed by the performance of units committed to the Baghdad fight.
Opponents of the present administration and anyone wishing to offer positive suggestions to see whatever improvements remain possible in Iraq should ask themselves if we can improve on the stand up/stand down plan. There are some success stories in the Iraqi security forces, but there are far too many problems. Some new direction could change the course in Iraq, but it will require a re-commitment to that country and our own armed forces -- new equipment, expanding the force, and perhaps most importantly some new leadership and genuine oversight.


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