Military Planning for Future in Iraq
The major papers have seemingly contradictory reports on our planning for troop rotation in Iraq.
With an interim Iraqi government now in place, the Pentagon is beginning long-range planning on how to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq, senior military officials said Wednesday. Pentagon officials have previously said that about 135,000 troops would stay in Iraq through 2005. But the military’s Joint Staff is working on detailed plans to reduce that number by 2006, on the assumption that Iraqi Army and other security forces will be ready to take on more responsibility by then, officials said.
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, the top operations officer for the Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz of the Air Force, signaled that this thinking was well under way. When asked about planning for the size of an American force that could move into Iraq for yearlong assignments beginning in early 2006, he declined to give specific figures but said, “The bottom line is, it is different than what we anticipate” for 2005. He added, “There is a significant planning effort that will wrap up later this summer.” A senior defense official said later that the Joint Staff was developing options for a smaller force in Iraq, proposals that would be consistent with the goal of Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, to reduce the American military presence in Iraq over time. Some officials said those options revolved around 100,000 troops, or fewer, but troop levels could increase if security in Iraq worsened.
Reducing American forces in Iraq has been a consistent goal of the Bush administration. While any reduction would almost certainly occur after the November elections, the prospects could blunt Democrats’ contentions that the administration planned poorly for the period after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government. The continued American presence is also a sore spot for the new Iraqi government as it seeks to establish credibility with the Iraqi people. And reducing it would lessen the strains placed on the United States Army by troop commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.
The Pentagon is planning for the “worst-case” scenario in Iraq over the next year, preparing to send in more armored units to battle an unrelenting insurgency, a senior Army official told Congress on Wednesday. Defense officials laid out a detailed roadmap of how they plan to deploy troops over the next year, replacing 140,000 soldiers and Marines now in Iraq with 135,000 troops being sent from bases in the U.S. and Europe in a third rotation of forces starting in November and lasting four months.
The proportion of reservists in Iraq will increase Ã¢€” from 39% to 42% of U.S. forces Ã¢€” as commanders try to bolster critical specialties where they are short and where civilian contractors can no longer be used because of the dangers. Other gaps will be plugged with the call-up of more than 5,600 recent military retirees.
Meanwhile, commanders are looking for ways to fill thousands of openings in military intelligence operations. Overall, of troops going to Iraq beginning this fall, a majority Ã¢€” 55% Ã¢€” will be serving a second time.
Taken together, the plans presented to members of the House Armed Services Committee portrayed a military scrambling to meet future troop needs for the conflict in Iraq and confronting the recurring criticism that they are trying to do too much with too little.
Presumably, these are flip sides of the same coin: expecting success while planning for failure.