WaPo reports that there may be a plan after all:
U.S. military commanders have developed a plan to steadily cut back troop levels in Iraq next year, several senior Army officers said in recent interviews.
There are now 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The plan to cut that number is well advanced and has been described in broad outline to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld but has not yet been approved by him. It would begin to draw down forces next spring, cutting the number of troops to fewer than 100,000 by next summer and then to 50,000 by mid-2005, officers involved in the planning said.
The plan, which amounts to being the first formal military exit strategy for Iraq, is designed to show how the U.S. presence might be reduced without undercutting the stability of the country. Military officials worry that if they do not begin cutting the size of the U.S. force, they could damage troop morale, leave the armed forces shorthanded if crises emerge in North Korea and elsewhere, and help create a long-term personnel shortage in the service.
At the same time, some of the people involved in the discussions said they consider the force reduction plan optimistic, as much a goal as a guaranteed outcome.
If it is implemented successfully, the troop reductions could reduce political pressure on the Bush administration as the presidential campaign gets fully underway.
In another shift in the U.S. presence, plans are being made to withdraw U.S. and British forces from some major Iraqi cities, a senior military official said. The first two cities being eyed for this change are Basra in the south and Mosul in the north. Those might be followed by a withdrawal from some “well-policed” neighborhoods in Baghdad, but there would not be a complete pullout from the capital, the official added.
Officials involved in the discussions about troop reductions insist that implementation will be dictated not by a set timetable, but by security conditions in Iraq. Nonetheless, the drawdown is tied to events that are scheduled to begin in January, when a major round of U.S. troop rotations that will last several months is to get underway.
During that period, the U.S. military hopes to turn over as many basic security functions as possible to the Iraqi security forces now being created and to any additional foreign peacekeepers that U.S. diplomacy secures. If the Iraqi security forces can shoulder more of the security burden, it might be possible to replace the departing divisions of about 16,000 troops each with brigades of about 5,000 each.
By my estimate, we can sustain six brigades in Iraq indefinitely,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent think tank. With the addition of some Marines, Green Berets and troops from civil affairs, intelligence, military police and other specialized units, he noted, “That would put us in the 40,000 to 50,000 range.”
“There isn’t going to be any victory parade,” said retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, who has been advising the Pentagon on the creation of the Iraqi civil defense force. “But slowly, but surely, you might be able to say, we don’t need a division, we need a regiment with a mobile reserve.”
Interesting. As long as we don’t get locked into specific timetables but rather key on events “on the ground,” this sounds feasible to me.
It sounds like we’ll have some troops over there indefinitely, which isn’t particularly surprising. But still having a very sizable contingent there two years from now, especially if they continue to sustain casualties, may tax the patience of a public that thinks military operations are something akin to a video game. One wonders how they’d react to something like D-Day, where the U.S. alone lost 2500 men in a single day, in today’s media climate.