"No choice -- withdrawal starts in '08"
Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times
September 11, 2007
Authors: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School, Kevin Ryan, Director, Defense and Intelligence Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
In his testimony to Congress on Monday, Gen. David H. Petraeus announced that he was withdrawing the first "surge" troops from Iraq this month and recommended bringing home the first combat brigade in December, followed by an additional four brigades over the following eight months. But he postponed any decision about the baseline force of 130,000 troops until next March.
In making his case for withdrawal, Petraeus cited improvements in Iraqi security forces, cooperation by Sunni sheiks in Anbar province and successes against extremists and Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq. Legislators who challenged his comments, as well as those who supported him, focused on these strategic variables in Iraq.
What all of this debate about withdrawal missed, however, is that the driver is not conditions in Iraq or politics in the United States but the hard realities of Army and Marine Corps readiness. As the troops' extended 15-month tours of duty end, the Army and Marine Corps simply don't have more troops to replace them. The withdrawal will be, in effect, the flip side of the surge.
This "drawdown" should come as no surprise. Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the former head of the U.S. Central Command for forces in the Middle East, candidly prepared us for this when he was questioned about the surge by the Senate Armed Services Committee last fall. "We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect," he said. "But when you look at the overall American force pool that's available, the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps."
How is it possible that a nation with 300 million people, a $13 trillion GDP and a defense budget of more than $600 billion is unable to muster 30,000 additional troops and sustain the surge for even a full year? The bottom line is that the leaders responsible for our military -- the president, the secretary of Defense and Congress -- refused over the past six years (as their predecessors had before them) to recruit, train and equip more troops. Even after deciding to attack Iraq, this leadership neglected its duty to raise the forces required, until it was too late to affect the outcome.
The reasons are varied and complicated. Illusions of a short war of liberation in Iraq, and a stubborn unwillingness to recognize the growing insurgency, blinded many political leaders. A command system that divides responsibility for planning operations from responsibility for generating forces has produced untenable plans and dangerous underestimates of resources. Absent a formal declaration of war, the president had to declare a partial, rather than a full, mobilization of our military following 9/11, effectively limiting access to thousands of National Guard and Reserve personnel.
Some steps are being taken to address these problems, such as the congressionally mandated study of the role of the Reserves and National Guard and how they are mobilized. The president and Congress also have authorized the active Army and Marine Corps to grow by 57,000 troops, but that will take time.
We should also take a hard look at the relationship among the branches of the armed services, combatant commands and the Joint Staff. When fights were localized and small, it was manageable to have combatant commanders and service chiefs reporting directly and separately to the secretary of Defense. But when we are in a global fight, it would be more effective to have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff consolidating these aspects of war fighting and making operational decisions -- so that battlefield planning and strategies better match resource decisions, and vice versa.
Whatever the successes and failures of the surge, troop withdrawal is unavoidable in Iraq now. As the forces and the commanders there struggle to find a workable way to accomplish our goals amid that reality, we can support them best by expanding and restructuring our military so that future decisions about lengthy, complex fights can be made on the strategic merits, without capricious constraints.
Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of Defense. Retired Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center.
For more on this subject, read the following unofficial transcript from September 11, 2007. Senator Jack Reed is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was the Democrats’ chosen responder to President Bush’s Iraq address on September 13, 2007.
Sen. Carl Levin Holds A Hearing On The Status Of The War And Political Developments In Iraq
LEVIN: Thank you very much, Senator Sessions. Senator Reed?
REED: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. General Petraeus, have you ever recommended or requested the extension of tours to 18 months for the accelerated deployment of Guard and Reserve forces?
PETRAEUS: I have certainly never recommended extension beyond 15 months. In fact, General Odierno and I put out a letter that said that, I mean, unless things got completely out of control, that we would not even think of extending beyond 15 months.
REED: Having done that, doesn't that virtually lock you in to a recommendation of reducing troops by 30,000 beginning in April and extending through the summer, regardless of what's happening on the ground?
PETRAEUS: It, depending — except depending on what can be taken out of the reserves. Again, I don't know what is available in the National Guard and the Reserves. I do know that the active army, in particular, that the string does run out for the army to meet the year-back criteria. Now, what we have done, of course, as I mentioned, Senator, is actually, in fact, to take some elements out short of their 15-month mark because of our assessment of the situation...
REED: I understand that, but — and I think, basically, my sense is that the overriding constraint you face is not what's happening on the ground in Iraq, but the reality, unless you did recommend, request and then succeed that unless tours were extended, 30,000 troops are coming out of there beginning April of next year, regardless of the situation on the ground.
PETRAEUS: Again, certainly, the active brigade combat teams were going to come out of there. Again, I am not aware of what is available in terms of battalions, brigades or what have you...
REED: My sense is that the Reserve and National Guard forces are not available to replace this.
PETRAEUS: I think that's the case. But, again, I don't know because I have not asked.
REED: Let me go to an issue which I think is central to not only where we are, but where we're going. If that's the reversibility of the progress you've reported, with respect to the surge, I think in that context, I look at the situation in Basra, which the chairman alluded to. The British conducted Operation Sinbad for about six months. Goals very similar to the surge — reduce the violence in Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, bring down the level of violence, prepare for redeployment of forces, and they have begun their redeployment. And yet, the situation in Basra, I think, has become deteriorated, significantly. Is that accurate?
PETRAEUS: Actually, in the last month, it has — the level of violence has come down fairly significantly, in part because of the — as I mentioned, there has been a four-star general put in place there several months ago, change the police chief, and, again, reach some political accommodations among the three parties that are down there, and also did some release of some Jaish al-Mahdi detainees, as well, who are not ones, by the way, who are in league with Iran.
REED: But the presence there of Iran is quite significant in the southern part, particularly in Basra.
PETRAEUS: There is a very real concern about Iranian activity in the southern provinces and in Basra in particular, certainly.
REED: Yes, you've agreed, as you said it to the chairman, that the reduction of British forces was appropriate. And in that regard, do the current British forces have a population protection mission? They do not. And really, Operation Sinbad was very different from our surge in the sense that it was conducted to reach some relatively short-term goals and actually, all along, intended to, in fact, come back to their bases.
PETRAEUS: They did then train, for example, the force to secure the palace over the course of the last couple of months, certified, took it over, and in fact has done an adequate job in maintaining security of that palace. There has been the stand-up of some additional Iraqi forces down there, including Iraqi special operations forces. And there are additional forces, literally as we speak, that are moving there to strengthen the position of General Mohan, the four-star general there.
REED: If the British forces are operating there with essentially a force protection mission, and you've described, in your terms, progress because of political adjustments, why can't U.S. forces begin to adopt a force protection and counterterrorism mission, nonpopulation protection mission? Or alternatively, why do certain elements in your command, American units, have a population protection mission and the British don't?
PETRAEUS: Well, it's largely because that's a Shia area and there has not been the kind of sectarian violence. There's just basically one sect. There is a pocket of Sunnis down there, but there has been general coexistence down there, by and large. So you literally just don't have the same — that particular challenge in Basra or in the other southern provinces. There is intra-Shia fighting that goes on, but that is something that in general the Iraqis have shown an ability to resolve in a way that they have not been able to deal with the very heightened sectarian violence, in particular, that took off in the mixed areas in the wake of the Samarra mosque.
REED: Let me return to my initial (inaudible). You've argued that lately, at least, that the progress in the south seems to be taking some hold, principally because of the nonsectarian element. Yet where you are operating and where you will reduce forces next spring, there is a significant sectarian Shia-Sunni clash. And yet you're still confident that these gains will stand up?
PETRAEUS: There are a number of areas in which we are actually doing fine in mixed areas or in which better, more accurate to say that Iraqi security forces are holding their own, are shouldering their share of the burden. Again, not to come back to Anbar, but Anbar is one of them, certainly. And you can see — I mean, we've actually — not only are we going to bring the MEU home out of there and not ask for it to be replaced, but we earlier actually moved an Army battalion out of Anbar province as well to another area, in fact, where it was needed more.
PETRAEUS: But there are other locations like that — Kirkuk, Mosul to a degree — other locations where you can thin because of the additional, in many cases local, volunteers in many cases who have seen what has happened in Anbar province and have sought to have some of that in their areas.
REED: Any strategy has objectives and resources to gain those objectives. Including in that is time and troops. So, given the present strategy that you've adopted, how long and at what maximum strength do you anticipate American forces being in Iraq?
PETRAEUS: Well, what I can see so far with any clarity in terms of time, as I said, is to the mid-July figure of 15 brigade combat teams. We have the concepts to take us beyond that, but as I mentioned in my testimony, I can't with any confidence or clarity then project beyond that time, other than to say that we will drawdown. What I cannot say is the pace of the drawdown beyond that 15 brigade combat team structure.
REED: Ambassador Crocker, to date, the nation-building effort in Iraq has faltered dramatically. And it seems the emerging strategy is one based on tribalism. Do you think that is a long-term and appropriate approach to stabilizing the country?
CROCKER: Again, Senator, it's hard to do nation-building or reconciliation in the face of widespread sectarian violence, which has been the situation over the last 18 months. And, as you've seen from General Petraeus' charts, it's really just been in the last few months that we've seen a significant reduction in that. I think that nation-building, reconciliation in Iraq is going to take a lot of forms. In certain areas, the tribal dimension is key. If you're dealing with Anbar, you're dealing tribal terms. And what is interesting and somewhat encouraging to me there is those tribal elements that have emerged have shown a considerable interest in linking up with the central government in Baghdad. About 10 days ago, the leader of the Anbar awakening, Sheik Abdel Sittar came to Baghdad. I spent some time with him. His main purpose, though, was to meet with the prime minister and kind of establish a relationship and see what might develop out of that.
CROCKER: In other parts of the country, it is going to be a somewhat different story. Diyala, for example, the Baqouba area, you have tribal elements. But, given the inter-mixture of Sunni, Shia and Kurds, unlike Anbar, which is all Sunni, you've also got a very complex sectarian element. So the dynamic is going to work differently in Diyala. Similarly in the south, there is a tribal dimension there. It has a different form and shape than the tribal dimension in the predominantly Sunni areas. But there, too, we're seeing some signs of a desire on the part of southern Shia tribes to connect with us, to connect with their own central government in the face of violent extremism practiced by elements of Jaish al-Mahdi. In Baghdad, the tribal dimension is less dominant — although, in many areas still present. But we're also seeing, as General Petraeus has pointed out, in some Sunni Baghdad districts the same kind of backlash against Al Qaida, the same desire to step up and cooperate with our forces, and then to go the next step for these neighborhood watches to link up with their own central government and come under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. So, again, it is very complex and it is going to vary from place to place. The tribes are part of it. Different areas of are going to have different dynamics.
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