Removing Combat Brigades from Iraq

Barack Obama has been President Elect for just two days and already we’re reducing the number of combat brigades in Iraq:

Gen. David H. Petraeus has decided to reduce the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 15 to 14 about six weeks earlier than planned, as a result of dramatically lower violence there, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

“The hope is they can come home before Christmas,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said of the decision.

The plan accelerates the withdrawal from Iraq of a 101st Airborne Division brigade of 3,500 to 4,000 troops that will not be replaced. Another brigade from the 10th Mountain Division that was scheduled to go to Iraq in its place will instead deploy to Afghanistan, as announced earlier this fall.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has stated that further increases in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan — where American commanders say they need three more brigades and thousands of support forces to combat a growing insurgency — will be contingent upon further withdrawals from Iraq next year.

Underpinning the decision to speed the brigade’s return is a continuing drop in attacks and troop casualties in Iraq, officials said. October had fewer than 1,000 “security incidents” nationwide in Iraq, the lowest monthly number since January 2004, Morrell said.

I’ve said for a long time that regardless of who was president events would determine our course of action in Iraq because that’s what our national interests require. Right now that’s moving in the direction of reducing our footprint in Iraq. How far and how fast that will proceed depends mostly on how stable and peaceful Iraq is and I continue to believe that will be true whether President Bush or President Obama is sitting in the Oval Office.

I only wish that more thought were being given to our strategic objectives in Afghanistan. Does increasing the number of combat troops in Afghanistan further those objectives? Or does it just provide the space for our presumed allies to reduce the size of their commitments? Does that further our strategic objectives?

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Drew says:

    I have always thought that Bush’s critics were making a false assertion by claiming the Iraq War diverted necessary resources from Afghanistan.

    I have never seen a reliable account of targets or initiatives gone wanting in Afghanistan, and have always assumed that the reality is that we are fully resourced.

    Is there evidence to the contrary?

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Actually, there is, Drew. Air strikes are being overused in Afghanistan because we don’t have the troops to conduct land operations at the scale necessary. That in turn results in more civilian casualties which undermines our strategic objectives in Afghanistan.

    The problem I have with that line of thinking is that I can’t imagine the American people getting behind the size of the army we’d need in Afghanistan to accomplish our tactical objectives with substantially reduced air strikes and I can’t imagine the Afghans accepting so large a force in their country peaceably.

  3. Drew says:

    Thanks. An air strike crutch is indeed a ham-fisted approach.

    Do you have a specific citation?

  4. Dave Schuler says:
  5. Drew says:

    Thanks for the link. Isn’t it a shame that our media can’t report these issues in a level headed manner? “Make sure you report 7 as 70”.

    Our opposition certainly knows how to pull the levers.

    So what is your view – do you believe that Obama will make a proper re-allocation of resources? I am not confident in any way.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that President Obama is likely to be as good as his word and increase the commitment of combat brigades to Afghanistan (as President McCain would have).

    However, I’m a dissenter. I think that we need to change our strategic objectives in Afghanistan away from apprehension to containment. Basically, we need to raise Al Qaeda’s cost of operations to unmanageable levels.

  7. Drew says:

    Timing is everything. Just this AM I read that Karzai has called for (for Obama to) an end to the air strikes and their attendant civilian casualties.