September 30, 2005

Leaving Iraq

The military's latest plan for Iraq, apparently just approved by Gen. George W. Casey, is suitable cryptic, but the following seem to be the main points, judging from an Inside the Pentagon interview with officials who reviewed the plan:
  • The military is planning for a wide range of changes the number of military personnel in Iraq between now and spring of 2006, from slightly increasing the Army to, in the most wildly optimistic scenario, bringing home 70,000 troops.
  • It will, however, be almost impossible to sustain the current force through 2006.
  • By earlier next year the military plans to hand off key tasks to private security contractors.
  • There's no set timetable for withdrawal. The conditions for reduction will include "the state of the insurgency, the capability of Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government's ability to support military operations," to be determined by a "multinational advisory panel."
  • "[S]ome defense analysts" think that "phasing troop reductions over the long term" is the best way to avoid instability.
  • How long term? "Some estimates" think the Pentagon will retain at least 20,000 military personnel in Iraq for perhaps a decade or more.
  • Seeing as how training the Iraqi Army doesn't seem to be getting anywhere, this likely means staying for a long, long time. The alternative, it seems, is the Center for American Progress' recently-released proposal to withdraw 80,000 troops by the end of 2006—no matter what—and then... deploy them elsewhere around the world. Because, really, the most sensible way to withdraw from Iraq is to get entangled, immediately, in yet another quagmire. No, but seriously, is there any reason to think that putting 1,000 more troops in the Philippines, as CAP proposes, is a good idea? Is the plan to invade Mindano province and wipe out Abu Sayyaf? Maybe we can broaden the war to the MNLF and other affiliated Islamic separatist groups too. Should be fun, I'll make the popcorn.

    Also, I'm no expert, but I guess I don't see the logic in taking 20,000 troops out of Iraq and dumping them in Afghanistan to "beat back the resurging Taliban forces and to maintain security throughout the country," as Korb and Katulis suggest. Either we think deploying more troops to defeat insurgencies with ties to al-Qaeda is an important thing to do or we don't. If we do, I don't see why Afghanistan or the Philippines or whatever takes precedence over Iraq, or why we think counterinsurgency will be successful elsewhere but not in Iraq. Or why we can let Iraq go to hell but absolutely must not let al-Qaeda fighters wander around the Horn of Africa. Is the idea here that Iraq is just botched beyond all repair, it sucks, that's life, nothing we can do, but hey, if we send troops somewhere else and try just a bit harder to do more or less the same thing, maybe this time it will work? I guess "redeployment" is more palatable, politically, than straight-up withdrawal, but it still seems like an odd way of thinking about things.
    -- Brad Plumer 3:38 PM || ||