U.S. Could Have Far Fewer Troops in Iraq Within Year
There is a consensus among senior leaders in the U.S. military that troop levels could be “significantly” lower by early 2006.
Two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the American-led military campaign in Iraq is making enough progress in fighting insurgents and training Iraqi security forces to allow the Pentagon to plan for significant troop reductions by early next year, senior commanders and Pentagon officials say. Senior American officers are wary of declaring success too soon against an insurgency they say still has perhaps 12,000 to 20,000 hard-core fighters, plentiful financing and the ability to change tactics quickly to carry out deadly attacks. But there is a consensus emerging among these top officers and other senior defense officials about several positive developing trends, although each carries a cautionary note.
Attacks on allied forces have dropped to 30 to 40 a day, down from an average daily peak of 140 in the prelude to the Jan. 30 elections but still roughly at the levels of a year ago. Only about half the attacks cause casualties or damage, but on average one or more Americans die in Iraq every day, often from roadside bombs. Thirty-six American troops died there in March, the lowest monthly death toll since 21 died in February 2004. Attacks now are aimed more at killing Iraqi civilians and security forces, and have been planned with sinister care and timing to take place outside schools, clinics and police stations when large daytime crowds have gathered. Several top associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose network has claimed responsibility for many of the most deadly attacks, have been captured or killed in recent weeks. American commanders say it now takes longer for insurgents to regroup and conduct a series of attacks with new tactics, like the one on the night of April 2 against the Abu Ghraib prison that wounded 44 Americans and 13 Iraqi prisoners.
More Iraqi civilians are defying the insurgents’ intimidation to give Iraqi forces tips on the locations of hidden roadside bombs, weapons caches and rebel safe houses. The Pentagon says that more than 152,000 Iraqis have been trained and equipped for the military or the police, but the quality and experience of those forces varies widely. Also, the Government Accountability Office said in March that those figures were inflated, including perhaps tens of thousands of police officers who are absent from duty.
Excellent news indeed. Stephen Green makes a good point, though:
Most of what we see on TV or on the front pages of most newspapers has led us to believe we’ve been losing ground in Iraq this whole time. That the insurgents were unbeatable. That the election was doomed. That Iraq’s political growing pains were certainly the latest signs of failure. And then – boom! – out of seemingly nowhere, comes a report that the Coalition is feeling confident enough, and the Iraq is growing strong enough, that it will soon be time to draw down our troop strength.
As Stephen notes, bloggers (notably Art Chrenkoff) have been drawing attention to the few “good news” stories that have been sprinkled in and seeing a trend. But those who rely mostly on the NYT for their news would find this headline shocking, indeed.
While some of the difference in coverage is ideological, with most of the writers and editors for the major media opposed to the war while Chrenkoff and others are supporters, I’d argue that most of it is simply a matter of temperament. Reporters are accustomed to covering explosions, killings, riots, and other things that are anomalous in a healthy polity because these things are “news.” Planes that don’t crash, guns that aren’t fired, buildings that aren’t on fire aren’t reported. Most journalists approach good news in Iraq–or anywhere–as the way things ought to be and therefore not newsworthy. In rebuilding societies, though, they definitely are.