Pentagon Showing Signs of Iraq Drawdown

The Defense Department has halted the scheduled deployment of two brigades to Iraq and on to Afghanistan, instead sending smaller elements.

Sources: Units’ Deployment May Be Canceled (AP)

The Pentagon has tentative plans to halt the scheduled deployment of two brigades to Iraq and instead send in smaller teams to support and train Iraqi forces in what could be an early step toward an eventual drawdown of U.S. forces, defense officials said Wednesday. The proposal comes amid growing pressure from Congress and the public to pull troops out of Iraq. Details are still under discussion, and it would largely depend on the military and political conditions there after the parliamentary elections next week, said the officials. The two officials, who did not want to be identified because the plans have not yet been finalized, said a third brigade, initially scheduled to go to Afghanistan, may also stay home. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is preparing to announce the plan after the Iraq election next Thursday, if all goes well, they said.

Unless this is an authorized “leak” of information, these people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The timing of announcements can be crucial to policy success and, regardless, government can not operate if its officials can not be trusted with confidential information.

Pentagon officials have said all along that they hope to reduce U.S. troop levels, now at about 154,000, as Iraqi security forces become more capable of defending their own country. A brigade usually numbers around 3,500 troops.

Under the plan, deployment of the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., would be canceled. Instead, for the first time, portions of the brigade would be divided into 10- or 11-member military transition teams that would be sent separately into Iraq to work with Iraqi security forces. Also, some other members of the brigade would go to Iraq to do security duty, such as guarding high profile targets.

The second unit that would not deploy to Iraq is the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, which is currently in Kuwait and is usually based in Germany. Under the plan, up to two-thirds of the brigade would return to Germany, while the rest would stay in Kuwait, prepared to respond to any emergency in Iraq.

The 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Polk, La., would not go to Afghanistan. NATO has been gradually expanding across Afghanistan, assuming responsibility for security from the U.S.-led coalition. The NATO-led force has about 12,000 soldiers from 36 nations and is responsible for security in Kabul as well as northern and western regions of the country. A separate, 20,000-strong U.S.-led force is in the east and south hunting Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

The new deployment plan would not dramatically reduce the number U.S. forces in Iraq but instead would set the stage for a gradual troop reduction, allowing the military to stop or delay other unit deployments planned for 2006-2008.

This makes sense and is indeed in accord with longstanding plans to gradually draw down as the transition to permanent Iraqi governance and a fully trained Iraqi police and military is in place. Sending select soldiers for cadre duty rather than whole brigades and their attendant support tail will reduce the American footprint somewhat.

The NATO-ization of Afghanistan may be the more interesting story here, not only because it has gotten virtually zero press coverage but also because it belies the “growing rift with our traditional allies” meme.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. J.R. says:

    It is clear that the article tries to create the impression that the Pentagon and the Bush Administration are buckling under the pressure of the Dems and the main stream news media.

    You are correct when you say that this has been the plan all along, to draw downward as Iraqi forces increase.

    Nice Blog, Keep up the great work.