The Iraq Troop Surge Strategy

With all the recent reports about the President’s soon-to-be-unveiled Iraq troop surge strategy, there has been much speculation about exactly what a surge would like, with estimates ranging anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 additional soldiers. To get an idea of where the President might be heading, we should examine a recent proposal by American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Frederick Kagan.

“Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq” was unveiled on December 15, 2006 as a recommended course of action for establishing security and bringing about peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. The plan rightly discounts the notion of a rapid withdrawal, warning that failure in Iraq would likely lead to the following consequences: widespread regional conflict; humanitarian catastrophe; terrorist sanctuaries; further radicalization of the Muslim world; loss of American credibility globally; and damage to the morale of the U.S. military. The plan also notes that the current strategy is not working, and that the violence is escalating faster than we are training Iraqis to control it.

Written by Kagan, retired Generals Jack Keane and David Barno, and several other contributors, “Choosing Victory” has as its basic argument that security must be established first, before any forward progress, economic or political, can be made in Iraq. To provide the security that the plan calls for, Kagan proposes an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops for a period of between 18 and 24 months. The surge would consist of over 30,000 combat soldiers and marines, plus the required support elements needed to sustain their operations.

The first, and most obvious question, is where will the troops come from? Kagan’s plan proposes extending the Iraq rotations for Army Brigade Combat Teams to 15 months, and extending the Marine Corps’ Regimental Combat Team tours to 12 months. The accelerated deployment of four combat brigades, along with the tour extensions for units already scheduled for deployment, would allow the U.S. military to put an additional four to five brigades in Baghdad (the center of gravity, according to the plan), doubling the size of the U.S. force currently there. At the same time, an additional two Marine Regimental Combat Teams would be deployed to the volatile al-Anbar Province, providing extra security in that Sunni insurgent hot spot.

“Choosing Victory” would deploy the first wave of forces by March 2007, with preparations for offensive security operations lasting until June. Then the surge in forces would allow U.S. commanders to go on the offensive, securing Baghdad by the fall of 2007. Once neighborhoods within Baghdad have been secured, U.S. forces would hand over security for the cleared areas to Iraqi soldiers and police. Simultaneously, the plan says, a massive reconstruction effort should be undertaken to provide a significant improvement in the quality of life of cleared sectors.

It is an ambitious plan, to say the least, and one which has thus far been met with much criticism. The American public has demonstrated of late that it does not have the stomach for this fight, an attitude that Kagan says must be changed. He calls for a national commitment to the war, with both the military and the public understanding that deployments will be longer and that National Guard units may return to the fight sooner than expected, a fight that will see increased casualties as we step up the effort to secure Baghdad.

All indications are that President Bush is leaning considerably toward a strategy that will be very similar to Kagan’s plan. But the mood of the nation is not on the side of Kagan or the President. No matter how well he presents his strategy, President Bush will not find the support that he needs and that “Choosing Victory” calls for. The result will be a serious confrontation between the Executive and Legislative branches, testing our system of government and our national resolve. Who will win? I don’t know. But I can tell you who will lose: the men and women of our armed forces who continue to valiantly serve their nation in a vicious environment while the citizens and leaders of this great country try to figure out what to do next.

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