Military Planning for Long Stay in Iraq
Thomas Ricks reports that military leaders are laying the groundwork for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq.
U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a “post-occupation” troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years.
This goal, drawn from recent interviews with more than 20 U.S. military officers and other officials here, including senior commanders, strategists and analysts, remains in the early planning stages. It is based on officials’ assessment that a sharp drawdown of troops is likely to begin by the middle of next year, with roughly two-thirds of the current force of 150,000 moving out by late 2008 or early 2009. The questions officials are grappling with are not whether the U.S. presence will be cut, but how quickly, to what level and to what purpose.
One of the guiding principles, according to two officials here, is that the United States should leave Iraq more intelligently than it entered.
That shouldn’t be difficult.
Of course, to call it a “post-occupation” force implies that we are currently “occupiers.” Zell Miller isn’t going to like that. Nothing makes that Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators.
As to the plan itself, it’s quite prudent to prepare for a long term presence. If total withdrawal occurs, then some staff time has been wasted. If not, then we’ll be more ready for the challenges ahead. And it strikes me as a near-certainty, regardless of who succeeds President Bush, that we’ll have at least some military force remaining, whether in Forward Operating Bases or tucked away in the Kurdish north.