Friday, April 20, 2007

Iraqi Troops...Who Needs 'Em?

Now this just pisses me off (via Kevin Drum):

Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration's Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.

Big surprise? Not really. Our forces have had trouble training the Iraqi forces since about the beginning of the war. But that's not the part that pisses me off. Here's Fred Kaplan, writing back in December when this original "surge" plan was being bandied about:

Kagan is inconsistent on how many troops need to surge in the first place. In an article for the Dec. 4 issue of the Weekly Standard, he calculated a need for 80,000 extra U.S. troops by spring 2007 but concluded, offhandedly, that 50,000 would be adequate. In his briefing, dated Dec. 17, that number is down to 21,000, with no explanation for the difference and, as far as I can tell, no difference in the analysis. Maybe someone told him 50,000 would be completely impossible.

Either way, where are they coming from? It's worth emphasizing that Kagan calculates that at least 150,000 combat troops will be needed to secure Baghdad alone. In all of Iraq, he estimates, the United States has only 70,000 combat troops now. He proposes moving 63,000 of them into Baghdad (leaving the other 7,000—two brigades—in Anbar province). The other 87,000 would be a mix of the "surge" and of Iraqi soldiers.

In case you missed it, the implication of Kagan's plan is that Iraqi forces will be opearating right alongside American forces to secure Baghdad. Such a component is necessary, both strategically and politically, because nobody would believe that 30,000 American troops is sufficient to secure Baghdad (they'd be right.) In fact, the Bush administration's original plan specifically calls for an increase in Iraqi forces in Baghdad. In case you've forgotten, here's a little reminder:

The American officials said Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, formally agreed in a long teleconference on Thursday with Mr. Bush to match the American troop increase, made up of five combat brigades that would go in at a rate of roughly one a month, by sending three more Iraqi brigades to Baghdad over the next month and a half.

Maybe that's not a clear enough of statement of how much the planners of the surge were expecting to rely on Iraqi help. Here's President Bush's own words in his speech to the nation on January 10th this year:

Let me explain the main elements of this effort.

The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts.

When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations; conducting patrols, setting up checkpoints, and going door- to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.

This is a strong commitment. But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help. So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad.

See? We're helping them. Which is why you, like I, might be a little surprised to learn that we're just quietly going to drop the expectation that the Iraqis will ever be trained sufficiently to assist us effectively in our little surge plan, especially since we're only about three months into it.

Of course, if you're cynical like me, you might be inclined to believe that the Bush administration never really thought that the Iraqis would be able to help much with this plan (or perhaps hoped on a wing and a prayer) but told all of us that anyway because nobody in their right mind would believe that 21,500 or 28,000 or 30,000 more American soldiers could possibly make that much of a difference. Which of course is why any revelation that the Iraqis can't really help us with the surge is treated like this:

No change has been announced, and a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck, said training Iraqis remains important. "We are just adding another leg to our mission," Keck said, referring to the greater U.S. role in establishing security that new troops arriving in Iraq will undertake.

So that's that. The entire success of the surge is now on the backs of the American troops now operating in Baghdad. Any guesses at the outcome?

UPDATE: No need to guess; these guys will lay it out for you (via Ilan Goldenberg at Democracy Arsenal.) Here are some headlines for you:
  • American Troop Fatalities are Up 33 Percent.
  • Overall Iraqi Casualties Rose 10% Between February and March.
  • The Deadliest Attack of the War Took Place Last Month.
  • On April 12, the Green Zone Suffered Its Worst Attack Since the Start of the War.
There's more, but it doesn't get any better.

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