Pentagon Planning Iraq Troop Reduction for Early 2006
Bradley Graham and Robin Wright report of Pentagon plans to reduce the American combat presence in Iraq by 20 percent early next year and up to one third later in the year if certain critical milestones are achieved.
3 Brigades May Be Cut in Iraq Early in 2006 (WaPo, A1)
Barring any major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces there early next year by as many as three combat brigades, from 18 now, but to keep at least one brigade “on call” in Kuwait in case more troops are needed quickly, several senior military officers said. Pentagon authorities also have set a series of “decision points” during 2006 to consider further force cuts that, under a “moderately optimistic” scenario, would drop the total number of troops from more than 150,000 now to fewer than 100,000, including 10 combat brigades, by the end of the year, the officers said.
Despite an intensified congressional debate about a withdrawal timetable after last week’s call by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) for a quick pullout, administration officials say that military and political factors heavily constrain how fast U.S. forces should leave. They cite a continuing need to assist Iraq’s fledgling security forces, ensure establishment of a permanent government, suppress the insurgency and reduce the potential for civil war.
U.S. military commanders, too, continue to favor a gradual, phased reduction, saying that too rapid a departure would sacrifice strategic gains made over the past 30 months and provide a propaganda windfall to insurgents. Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the senior tactical commander in Iraq, indicated to reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that his staff had looked at shrinking U.S. force levels more quickly. But he made his opposition to such a move clear. “A precipitous pullout, I believe, would be destabilizing,” Vines said from Baghdad. Another senior general likened an accelerated withdrawal to “taking the training wheels off of a bike too early,” warning that a sudden removal of all U.S. troops would risk the collapse of Iraq’s fledgling security forces. He and several other officers privy to the planning for force reductions said the process has not been affected by the mounting political pressure in the United States and among some Iraqi leaders for U.S. troops to leave.
The current number of U.S. forces in Iraq represents an increase of more than 15,000 troops over a base level this year of about 138,000, including 17 combat brigades. The equivalent of another brigade’s worth of combat power was added this fall to bolster security for the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and the coming Dec. 15 vote on a new national government.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke over the weekend of plans to bring the force level back down to 138,000 after the elections, effectively removing the extra brigade equivalent added for the election period. In addition, officers said, two combat brigades that had been slated to move into Iraq to replace units coming out are now expected to be held back. One of those units — a brigade of the 1st Armored Division based in Germany — will probably be positioned in Kuwait. The other unit — a brigade of the 1st Infantry Division — will probably remain at its home base of Fort Riley, Kan., the officers said.
The plan to keep at least one brigade in Kuwait represents what one senior officer called a “hybrid option.” It is intended to hedge against events in Iraq deteriorating once U.S. force levels begin to drop, the officer said, adding that the Pentagon probably will place troops on alert elsewhere as well.
This seems far more realistic than the Murtha plan. The only commonalities are fewer troops in country and the positioning of a rapid reaction force nearby.
Update: Let’s compare plans:
|Murtha Plan||Pentagon Plan|
|Troops in 6 Mos.||0 brigades||16 brigades|
|Troops end 2006||0 brigades||10 brigades|
|Pullout based on||Battle fatigue||Achieving milestones|
|Rapid Reaction Force||Yes||Yes|
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States will probably not need to maintain its current troop levels in Iraq “very much longer,” though she declined to provide a precise timetable for reduction in U.S. forces. Rice appeared to set the stage for such a reduction, saying the Iraqi forces are doing a better job of holding their own against insurgents. “I do not think that American forces need to be there in the numbers that they are now because Ã¢€” for very much longer Ã¢€” because Iraqis are stepping up,” Rice told Fox News in an interview Tuesday. “This is not just a matter of training numbers of Iraqi forces, but actually seeing them hold territory.”
Rice did not comment on specific troop levels. But in an interview with CNN, she said, “I suspect that the American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are there for all that much longer because Iraqis are continuing to make progress in function, not just in numbers but in their capabilities to do certain functions like, for instance, holding a highway between the airport and the center of the city, something that our forces were doing just a short time ago, they’re now doing.” “I think that’s how the president will want to look at this,” she said.
One would hope.