Plans in Iraq Must Be Based on Realistic Demands
Op-Ed, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
May 24, 2007
Author: Kevin Ryan, Director, Defense and Intelligence Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
This week, a second round of surge units were announced for Iraq as the number of troops in that country builds to its highest level ever. Gen. David Petraeus has told President Bush that he needs until September to see if conditions on the ground warrant continuing the surge.
But earlier this month, the Army had a chance to brief the president on a different set of conditions. On May 10 in the Pentagon's "Tank" briefing room, the Army told the president in detail about the conditions on the ground, not for units in Iraq, but for the units getting ready to go to Iraq. We've had plenty of warning that the message would be pessimistic. It undoubtedly was.
In November, then CENTCOM commander John Abizaid told Congress that he knew the Army couldn't sustain a surge of 20,000 troops. A month later, the president ordered almost 30,000 more troops to go. So did Abizaid. A balance of barely one year at home for each year at war was shattered and units began redeploying to Iraq for 15-month tours with less than a year preparation. The result was a downward spiral in readiness in units preparing to deploy.
The author of the surge, Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, had predicted in November that his idea might require units to deploy "not as well trained as one would like." No one can accuse him of not appreciating the impact of his plan on conditions in the Army. It got so bad by April that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had to order the Army to keep units home a minimum of a year so troops wouldn't deploy into combat lacking equipment and training.
Our ability to react to any other crises is almost zero. Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who has traveled to the war zone and studied the situation firsthand, told Congress in April that 40 percent of the Army and Marine Corps equipment is either in Iraq or in repair. McCaffrey told Congress it will require $212 billion and years to repair that equipment. The National Guard estimates that 80 percent of its units in the states are incapable of performing their wartime mission. Those facts were undoubtedly part of the Army's brief to the president.
The morale of the troops remains high against all odds, and they will still be the best soldiers in the world by any measure, even after the surge.
But the institution of our Army has been contorted beyond recognition to sustain untenable deployment levels. The Army Times reported this month that only four Army brigades out of 39 remain available in the U.S. for other contingencies. For the past four years, strategic planning staffs have reinforced tactical staffs working near-term crises rather than thinking ahead to future conflicts.
Training units, the greenhouses of our force, are gutted to provide cadre for deploying units. Tomorrow's armor and artillery battalion commanders are growing up expert in infantry tactics but knowing little about their own branches. It will be years before we regain our balance between operations, training and manpower.
At the briefing with the president, the Army's chief, Gen. George Casey, undoubtedly told him all that. What Casey wouldn't have told the president was how to proceed in Iraq, because he isn't calling those shots anymore.
It's Petraeus, Casey's replacement in Baghdad, who has that job, and his plan remains based on conditions in Iraq, not back home. His idea to enhance security by concentrating troops in Baghdad and Anbar province and dispersing them into neighborhoods is essentially sound.
But it must be done with fewer U.S. troops. Until conditions on the ground back here are included in the calculations, our oversized plan will continue to bankrupt our ability to sustain it. The Army has said repeatedly that to sustain a deployed force for a long time in Iraq we need to draw down to about 10 brigades (or about 100,000 troops). If this truly is a "long war" and, if we are serious about not abandoning Iraq and the region, we need plans based on realistic demands. We will lose the race if we continue to run this marathon like a sprint.
Retired Brig. Gen. Kevin T. Ryan is a senior fellow with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a 29-year veteran of the U.S. Army. His last active duty assignment was deputy director for Army strategy, plans and policy.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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