Saturday, January 26, 2008

Not enough troops

The Wall Street Journal continues its occasional practice of giving op-ed space to Kimberly Kagan to assess the progress of the surge in Iraq. Her husband Fred designed it. Her main point is that the additional troop deployment has relatively high "overhead" because each brigade needs a substantial headquarters to handle all the extra functions -- escorting kids to kindergarten and the like -- that the brigades have been assigned in addition to their traditional fighting duties. Thus withdrawing any given number of total troops is difficult because you have to decide how to unwind these overhead components as well.

But the deeper message, not said in so many words, is that only suckers should have believed that the deployment was temporary, despite the fact that it sounded like that at time. Indeed, one gets the sense that she has been briefed by the generals in Iraq to lower expectations that even the planned reduction in troop levels can be achieved. What's the problem? Basically, all the surge is doing is shifting around troops from one trouble spot to another, leaving the previously pacified areas in a fragile state --

Coalition and Iraqi forces have not finished clearing Ninevah province, Salah ad-Din and parts of Babil. Major operations continue against al Qaeda remnants in Ninevah, Salah-ad-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk and Wasit provinces. Fighting between Iraqi Security Forces (aided by coalition special forces and our Georgian, Polish and British allies) and Mahdi Army militias continues in the south.

The withdrawal to 15 brigades already assumes that these operations will be successful. It provides no cushion for unexpected developments or unforeseen enemy responses. There is thus no military basis at all at the present time to recommend additional reductions in 2008.

In other words, the only way to ensure that troops can be withdrawn is to send even more troops -- a Surge Squared, if you will. John McCain's estimate of a century-long deployment is looking about right.

UPDATE 29 JANUARY: It's now a little clearer that Kagan's article was indeed a signal of no additional troop reductions beyond the 15 brigades. Did she know because she's involved in the decision or because she's being briefed more than Congress (or indeed some of Petreaus's superiors) are?

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