Washington (SPX) Jan 24, 2007
The logic of the new force deployments President George W. Bush has approved for the Middle East appeared geared towards launching an air strike against Iran or deterring Iranian retaliation rather than preparing for a major change in U.S. strategy to win the war in Iraq.
As we have noted in previous coverage, the much hyped "surge" strategy the president has approved to strengthen U.S. forces in Iraq, especially in Baghdad, will be almost negligible in its boost to U.S. troop numbers in and around the Iraq capital in the short term.
By the end of February, only 7,000 additional troops are currently scheduled to be sent out. The impact those numbers by themselves can have on a city of 7 million people will be negligible. The U.S. Army's own latest manual on counter-insurgency warfare calls for a ratio of 20 troops to secure 1,000 of the general population who need to be protected, as Trudy Rubin pointed out in the Philadelphia Inquirer Friday. That would require 140,000 U.S, troops to secure Baghdad alone.
By contrast, the build up of U.S. air and sea assets in the Persian Gulf area is far more massive than the "surge' in ground troops. A second aircraft carrier battle group is being sent to join the USS Eisenhower carrier battle group already in the region, in effect doubling its air striking power.
In terms of the new tactics that Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, President Bush's choice to replace Gen. George Casey as ground forces commander in Iraq, is expected to implement, this makes no sense. Petraeus is a renowned student and exponent of the traditional principles of counter-insurgency war.
He has advocated greater U.S. force levels to be deployed on the ground at grassroots level, especially in Baghdad, and that they be spread out around the city's many neighborhoods rather than bunched up in a defensive posture in the heavily defended Green Zone in order ensure increase protection and security for the general population.
Adding more aircraft capable of striking at ground targets, but only at the expense of devastating more civilian areas, increasing civilian casualties and thereby generating far more active support for the Sunni insurgents, makes no sense in terms of this policy.
Besides, the greatest strain on U.S. forces in Iraq is on the manpower of the Army and Marines ground combat forces, not on carrier-based pilots. The insurgents have no air force of their own and what ground-fired, hand-held anti-aircraft missiles they have appear to have had negligible impact on the unquestioned U.S. air superiority in the theater.
Similarly, as we have also note din previous columns, the appointment of Adm. William Fallon as the new Central Command, or CENTCOM, commander-in-chief, makes no sense if his primary mission is expected to back Gen. Petraeus in fighting a classic counter-insurgency campaign more effectively in Iraq. Adm. Fallon is widely respected in the Navy and by Bush administration officials.
But his primary expertise is in running the PACCOM, or Pacific Command, which he has done with great distinction, and in being one of the U.S. Navy's most experienced directors of deploying carrier-based air assets against land targets. This expertise too would be superfluous against the Sunni insurgency. However, it would be of the greatest importance in the event of any U.S. air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, or if the Bush administration was anticipating some kind of widespread Iranian attempt at retaliation.
The same logic applies to the president's approval of sending new Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile batteries to the Middle East. The Patriot is the finest anti-ballistic missile system in the world. But it appears entirely superfluous to the many needs of the hard-pressed U.S. combat forces in Iraq.
However, if Iran were to attempt to launch any of its Shihad -3 intermediate range missiles at U.S. forces or allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States or Israel, then the Patriot deployments would be of the greatest importance.
Even the extremely small augmentation of U.S. ground forces in Baghdad takes on a different significance when interpreted from the perspective of possible Iranian retaliation against future U.S. or Israeli air strikes. It is not remotely enough to make a significant difference in providing security to the general population of the Iraqi capital.
But the additional forces could be of crucial importance in deterring or putting down a new rising by the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army militia of Moqtada al-Sadr. Washington has been pressuring Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to commit Iraqi army forces to suppress the Mahdi Army. But the Shiite Maliki has been very reluctant to commit his army, which is Shiite dominated, against a force that has heavily infiltrated it.
None of these assessments mean that a U.S.-Iran military clash in the region is automatically inevitable or imminent. Prudent military commanders always try and anticipate dangerous contingencies that may never come to pass. Or the new military assets may be intended for other regions. However, the fact remains, their relevance to current and projected U.S. military operations in Iraq appears very unclear. And their relevance to having to constrain or defeat a hostile Iran appears obvious.
earlier related report
General James Conway, Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker told a congressional hearing that the two conflicts had put US forces under increasing pressure.
"We have examined other war plans and our capability to respond to those plans, and we see that we are lacking in some areas with our ability to do so," Conway told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
Asked whether the United States was running a "strategic risk" if it called upon the Marines to take on a new war, he replied : "we feel that there is risk."
"We feel like that we would be able to respond with those forces that are not committed to Iraq or Afghanistan, that the response would be slower than we might like, would not have all of the equipment sets that ordinarily would be the case, and there is certainly a risk associated with that," Conway said.
Schoomaker said President George W. Bush's new plan for Iraq, which will see 21,500 extra troops sent to Baghdad and restive western Anbar province, would further strain US forces.
"It puts continued pressure, increased pressure upon the non-deployed forces," he said.
Schoomaker said that while he was not concerned about the readiness of US troops going into harm's way, he did have some reservations about the "strategic depth" of the US Army.
Conway said that while the morale of marines was still high, repeated combat tours were beginning to have a severe impact.
"We also see leading indicators that the impact of multiple deployments on Marines and their families is being felt," he said.
"More significantly for the nation, we believe our training for our other missions is also being impacted."
Earlier this month, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced he would seek to expand overall armed forces by 92,000, made up of 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines to increase combat readiness.
earlier related report
Lieutenant General David Petraeus said it will be late summer before there are indications of whether a new strategy of "clear, hold and build" is taking hold in Baghdad, the focus of the new effort.
The general told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that if he determined the new strategy was not working, he would say so.
"The situation in Iraq is dire, the stakes are high, there are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard," he said. "But hard is not hopeless."
Senators expressed broad support for Petraeus' nomination to replace General George Casey as the commander of the 134,000-strong US force in Iraq, praising him as a stellar general and author of the army's new counter-insurgency doctrine.
But they questioned whether the 21,500 additional troops promised by President George W. Bush were enough to make a difference, whether the Iraqi government would fulfill its commitments, and whether bifurcated command arrangements would produce a "unity of effort" between US and Iraqi forces.
"You wrote the book, but the policy is not by the book," said Senator Hillary Clinton.
Petraeus said the additional forces were essential to bringing security to Baghdad, a city of six million people that has been torn by an onslaught of sectarian violence.
He acknowledged that the numbers fell short of the estimated 120,000 troop total that would be called for under the manual on counter-insurgency that he recently finished producing for the army.
The new strategy will put a total of 86,000 US and Iraqi troops into the city, he said. But the presence of thousands of private security contractors in the city as well, he said, "does give me reason to believe we can accomplish the mission."
The last of five additional US combat brigades is due to arrive in Baghdad in May, he said.
"I would think we would have indicators at least during the late summer of the ability to do clear and hold and then build in Baghdad area and secure that population," he said.
But he said he has asked that the US forces be deployed as rapidly as possible because a critical mass is needed before moving out into Baghdad neighborhoods.
To those worried that US troops will be more exposed in Baghdad, Petraeus said, "There is certainly risk."
"As we disperse soldiers you always want to make sure they are capable of overmatch of anything they could confront out there. But certainly there will be soldiers on the road, soldiers on the street out there," he said.
Petraeus agreed that the success of the mission also will depend on the Iraqi government meeting its military, political and economic commitments to the strategy.
He said leverage could be applied to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki through moral suasion, and the granting or withholding of US assistance.
He denied a report that he intended to continue the flow of additional US forces into Iraq even if the Iraqi government fails to meet those commitments, but indicated such a decision would rest with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"I know how heavy a rucksack I will have to shoulder if confirmed," said Petraeus. His confirmation will be accompanied by his promotion to full general.
Petraeus is the most celebrated general to come out of the Iraq war, and the administration has pointed to his record of success as the best guarantee that its new strategy can work.
He commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq, and pacified the restive area around the northern city of Mosul in its aftermath by rapidly reviving the local economy and establishing Iraqi governing bodies.
When an initial attempt to create Iraqi security forces collapsed amid Sunni and Shia uprisings in the sping of 2004, Petraeus was called back to rebuild what is now a 325,000-member Iraqi security force virtually from scratch.
He returned in September 2005 to head the US Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he wrote the army's first manual on counter-insurgency warfare in two decades.
But the escalating insurgent and sectarian violence has eroded many of Petraeus' previous accomplishments.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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US Deploys More Muscle To Gulf As Iran Crisis Continues
Washington (UPI) Jan 24, 2007
Much has been made of the Pentagon's decision to send a second carrier strike group to the Gulf this month. What does this move indicate about the discussions taking place behind the closed doors of the Bush administration about the level of threat that the Iranians pose?
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