"The Troop Surge That Isn't"
Op-Ed, Boston Globe
January 6, 2007
Author: Kevin Ryan, Director, Defense and Intelligence Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
WHEN IS a surge not a surge? The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, issued a report yesterday calling for a "sustained surge of US troops to secure and protect critical areas of Baghdad." The report, presented by professor Frederick Kagan and retired Army vice chief of staff Jack Keane, purports to give ground commanders a new strategy for deploying 30,000 more troops and winning the war in Iraq.
The American Enterprise Institute report matters because its authors are influential within the current administration, and because it appears to capture the thinking of the most prominent politicians who favor a surge. (Senators John McCain of Arizona and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut were scheduled panelists at the report's release.) Unfortunately, the proposal only provides a temporary bump in troops while jeopardizing the readiness of an American Army that is already stretched too thin.
The report calls for accelerating the arrival of four Army brigades and two Marine regiments that are already preparing to go to Iraq in early 2007 and delaying the departure of the 15 brigades now in Iraq by three months each. That is not a surge of new troops. That is a three-month overlap of scheduled troop departures and arrivals.
The report details this overlap strategy for the 2007 rotation but has no concrete plan for 2008 and beyond. Only then will the real damage from the American Enterprise Institute proposal surface. To sustain the deployments, units that have been accelerated in 2007 will have to stay longer than their one-year rotations, and units whose deployments were extended will go back to Iraq in 2008 and 2009 with less than one year of rest.
Kagan and Keane are banking that either the extra brigades will not have to be replaced or that the National Guard and Army Reserve can equip and deploy additional combat units -- dangerous assumptions that have proven false before with respect to Iraq.
The balance of deployment and recovery is already tenuous. That's why President Bush agreed in December to enlarge the Army and Marine Corps. If the American Enterprise Institute's recommendations become reality, the balance will tip, readiness will spiral downward, and the cost and time to reset units will spiral upward. In exchange for one last rush at the objective, this proposal risks our ability to fight the long war necessary for success in the region. The report suffers from the same casual dismissal of undesirable outcomes that characterized post-combat, reconstruction planning in Iraq.
Notably, the report comes from Washington-based military observers, not from the generals in Iraq who are charged with strategy. Those commanders have overlapped units to increase troops before; during Iraqi elections in 2005 and this past fall in Baghdad. They also have 15 US brigades in Iraq, only five of which are in Baghdad. If the commanders thought that three or four extra US brigades in Baghdad would turn the tide, they could have arranged that. The fact is that the generals in charge of Iraq, George Casey and John Abizaid, have said they do not want more US troops. They want more Iraqi troops, and they know the Army and Marines cannot sustain 30,000 additional troops in Iraq.
Kagan, who has advocated troop increases in Iraq of up to 75,000, claims that the additional troops needed can be replenished with the increased Army end strength that the president and Congress are likely to authorize this year. But the Army still has not recruited all the 20,000 additional troops Congress authorized in 2004 and cannot grow as rapidly as Kagan wishes.
In a November Weekly Standard article, Kagan said he understood the surge would be difficult for the Army and explained that one solution would be to "send forces that are not as well trained as one would like." Such comments begin to reveal the risks associated with this idea -- and should give Americans pause about its chances for success.
Kevin Ryan, a retired Army brigadier general, is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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