92,000 and counting

A couple of weeks ago I noted that the Pentagon had released a list of units slated to rotate to Iraq in 2006 and 2007. I made two predictions, first that we’d be seeing headlines about “big troop cuts” the next day, and second that when the list grew we’d be seeing “Bush not cutting as many troops as earlier reported” headlines.

My first prediction was wrong. It was election day, and the next couple days of Legacy Media were pretty much non-stop gushing about the big Democratic victory of not losing any governorships.

The problem with the 92,000 number is that it’s nothing more than the total size of a partial list. For instance, it contains zero US Marines.

I still expect to see outcry if (and almost certainly when) the number of troops exceeds 92,000.

The possibility exists that the national elections next month go very smoothly and Iraqi forces exceed expectations over the next few months, of course, allowing US commanders to put the optimistic plans into gear and draw down more than expected. What most people always seem to miss is the fact that the military has dozens of troop level plans, each designed for a particular contingency. We’ve got plans for emergency all-out abandonment of Iraq, plans for the emergency deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional US troops, and plans for everything in between.

The likely number is probably somewhere between the 92,000 number and the current level, which is somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 to 170,000. If Sunnis seem to be really buying in to the political process and a few notable successes are scored (like if Zarqawi is really dead and his organization flounders), it will be nearer the lower end of the scale. Otherwise, it’s likely to be more than 100,000. The recent wave of terrorist attacks, for instance, doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that we’ll be accelerating withdrawal any time soon. Secretary Rumsfeld maintains that troops commanders and the situation on the ground will determine our force level, and that’s as it should be.

Of course, the recent games in Congress over troop levels have everyone forming opinions about troop levels and writers eager to play, too. For example, here’s a CNN article:

Defense official: Rumsfeld given Iraq withdrawal plan
Plan calls for troops to begin pulling out after December elections

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Here’s the info on the plan, which is at the end of the article:

The plan, which would withdraw a limited amount of troops during 2006, requires that a host of milestones be reached before troops are withdrawn.

Top Pentagon officials have repeatedly discussed some of those milestones: Iraqi troops must demonstrate that they can handle security without U.S. help; the country’s political process must be strong; and reconstruction and economic conditions must show signs of stability.

Hmmm. Sounds like the plan from before the initial invasion to me. The same plan we’ve been hearing about for over two years.

This MSNBC story has a bit more info, including:

Despite all the political turmoil, Pentagon and congressional sources say many lawmakers already know about this plan. It was briefed recently on Capitol Hill, to Republicans and Democrats alike.

You mean that Congressional representatives might be publicly posturing about things that they know the military is already considering? Say it ain’t so!

While looking around for some material while preparing this post, I noticed that both Defense Tech and Instapundit note an Opinionated Bastard post from the 12th. In it, OB writes

McCain gave a speech to counter Kerry, saying we needed more troops in Iraq. Well, I agree with that, I just don’t think they should be US troops, they should be Iraqi troops. We’re training 7-10,000 new troops a month in Iraqi. Those troops are about 3-4 times more effective then our own troops; after all, its their country. So by the end of the year, when we rotate those 30,000 troops home, there will be more then enough Iraqi troops to replace them. By August, we’ll have 270,000 Iraqi troops in Iraq

Now, you all know I’m on-board with this. Building the new Iraqi army has been a long and slow process, but we’re close to the point where we’re going to see the payoff of doing it the way we did it. In fact, we might already be at that point. If so, though, we aren’t seeing it because it doesn’t fit the “no plan/bad plan” storyline.

One point where I depart from OB’s analysis is the breakdown of the troop level scenario, though. Too many folks have become fixated on that 92,000 number. After being initially ignored (instead of hyped like I predicted) it’s suddenly become some sort of magic number, which is pretty much what I thought would happen. If that number ends up being accurate, it will be because more troops were withdrawn (or not sent) than currently projected/predicted. Once again I’ll remind readers that the number includes no Marines. Raise your hand if you think the Marine Corps is within months of being all finished up in Iraq.

Both the CNN and MSNBC articles, above, note that troops might be pulled out a battalion at a time. That’s certainly possible, though I’m curious about the attention that particular point is getting. Are they maybe just parroting some terms and numbers that they don’t understand? More likely than wide-scale withdrawal of various battalions, if all goes well, is that troops slated to go have their deployment cancelled before leaving. Getting brigade-sized units prepared to deploy overseas is quite a task. Never mind the training required to get fighting men up to snuff on a particular mission, the logistics are a nightmare. Even with the new brigade-centric organization, the task is monumental and must be coordinated months in advance if it’s to be accomplished with any efficiency. It is far easier to begin preparations for a potential deployment and then pull the plug than it is to try to accelerate the deployment of a unit not originally slated to go. Indeed, one brigade of the 1st Division had its orders cancelled after being previously told to prepare to deploy to Iraq.

If things go well next month, maybe a unit or two on the DoD’s list will be given the same cancellation orders. If things go astoundingly well and the Iraqi police and military forces exceed expectations, maybe we’ll even get close to the 92,000 number. But I’m not holding my breath.

And Rep. Murtha’s prediction on Meet the Press this morning is just crazy:

MR. RUSSERT: You think we’ll be out of Iraq by the end of 2006?

REP. MURTHA: I think we’ll be out of there; if not completely out of there, we’ll be very close to being out of there. I think we could be out–yeah, I predict we’ll be out of there–it’ll be 2006.

MR. RUSSERT: By Election Day 2006?

REP. MURTHA: You–you have hit it on the head.

For the record, Murdoc thinks the US troop level in Iraq will be in excess of 50,000 for at least ten years. I think the amount of fighting we’re doing will drop dramatically in the coming year, but I continue to believe that significant combat power in the form of sizable ground forces, air forces, and support forces (plus additional pre-positioned heavy equipment) is crucial to our long-term victory in the Middle East. I’m thinking something along the lines of a Stryker brigade, a mechanized infantry brigade, and equipment for one or two additional brigades. Toss in some Marines, some Air Force units, a generous helping of Special Forces, and the supporting cast required to make it all go. If we can be there by the end of 2008, I’ll be happy.

Remember, just a month ago Demon Eyes Rice was being hyped as warning about troops in Iraq ten years from now.

(Incidentally, be sure to check out the links to Opinionated Bastard, Defense Tech, and Instapundit. They’ve all got some good analysis and links.)

Comments

  1. Bush’s big problem (besides ignoring intel that contradicted his intent to invade Iraq no matter what, and listening to Rummy about how we could conquer & occupy Iraq with only 6 soldiers, LOL!); is figuring the American public could ever sustain the will to see anything through that was going to take longer than drive through. The sad part of that is our intel organizations in Iraq are just now hitting their stride after learning a significant protion of the complexities that make up Iraqi society. It seems there has been a clear improvment in the last few months, in the ability of US and Coalition forces to take down time critical targets and bad guys Be a shame to cut and run now.

  2. Murtha is wrong if he thinks all the troops will be home in six months. Of course, now he’s saying they’ll all be home in a year, which to him is the same as six months. In any case, the difference is, those who want to win the war will check out conditions before any withdrawals. Those who don’t care want to leave within six months, no matter what. By the way, I’m still shocked that not one senior Bush administration official has mentioned, in the last month of Plame and Murtha, that we invaded Iraq for more than one reason. Ending repression was one reason, and it’s backed up by U.N. Resolution 688. (And CIA intelligence was right. There are mass graves!) Building a democracy, the only hope for peace, was another reason. Punishing Saddam’s support for terrorists was yet another. And then there were Saddam’s repeated refusals to cooperate fully with weapons inspectors.