Iraq / Military / Politics · September 22, 2006

Current troop levels in Iraq not sustainable

Remember last year when the Pentagon said that American forces in Iraq would be reduced to 80,000 troops by June of 2006? By the end of 2006 troop strength in Iraq was supposed to be between 40 to 60 thousand? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has flip-flopped on this subject just about every month in the last year or two, first promising a drawdown of troops in the next few months and next saying that the military will stay at whatever troop strength is needed for as long as America is needed in Iraq.

Remember the good old days when Rumsfeld assured us that an Iraq without Saddam Hussein would, “just logically” require fewer military troops?

Well you can forget all of that. There isn’t going to be any military troop reductions in Iraq. We may need to send even more troops there to stanch the emerging civil war and the Iraqi death squads. The only problem is that the American military is pretty much tapped out.

If you are Active Duty Army, you’re probably spending one year out of every two in Iraq, while training and repairing equipment in the off year. If you are in the Army Guard it is likely that you have already spent the legal limit of two years in Iraq, and are not ‘eligible’ to go back to Iraq for at least 3 years.

A new article in the LA Times stresses that even if troops in Iraq do not increase, but merely stay at their current levels, it may be impossible to sustain for longer than a year or two, perhaps in the next 18 months the Army will no longer be able to meet current obligations in Iraq – let alone in the rest of the world.

From the article: (You may need a free registration to read this.)

Army officials had been counting on a gradual drawdown in Iraq starting later this year and accelerating over the following 12 months.

But the rising violence in Baghdad forced the Pentagon to shelve those plans at the end of July, and Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, acknowledged publicly Tuesday that force levels would remain around the current 145,000 through spring.

One senior Pentagon official involved in long-term planning said the concerns had reached such a level that top Army leaders broached the issue of changing deployment rules to allow for more frequent call-ups of National Guard and Reserve units to relieve pressure on the active duty Army.

Because the Army relied heavily on the Guard and Reserve early in the war, many units have hit legal deployment limits, which allow for two years overseas out of every five. But without a change in those rules to allow more frequent Guard deployments, the Army would be forced to consider a push for an expansion of its active duty force, which stands at 504,000, the official said.

But didn’t the Army just meet recruitment goals for the last year? They were 7,000 short at one point before they offered additional incentives. Can they keep this up?

Some former senior military officials said that without a substantial draw-down, the military will face personnel issues. The Army, for instance, has been maintaining its overall force levels in part because of higher-than-expected reenlistment numbers. Army officials say those rates show soldiers have been pleased with their experience and are eager to continue to serve.

But military experts say if the operational pace continues, the reenlistments are likely to fall sharply.

“My gut keeps telling me we have 18 to 36 months until we see dramatic shifts in recruiting, retention and discipline of the ground forces,” says retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former commander in Bosnia and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I just think that the stress over time on the same people is building and building. I don’t know when the valve on the pressure cooker goes off.”

Jack L. Tilley, who from 2000 to 2004 served as sergeant major of the Army — the service’s top enlisted officer — said family members had begun pressuring soldiers not to reenlist, arguing they had been away from home too long and worrying that chances of serious injury or death increased with each return to Iraq.

“It’s like anything else,” Tilley said. “You play a game — first time you win, the second time you win. Well, you know chances are getting slimmer and slimmer about getting hurt, and there is a lot of concern about that.”

As of this date, 22,607 American military members have been killed or wounded in Iraq due to enemy action. These casualties do not include those people who suffer mental disability due to action in Iraq, nor do they include those who died by accident while in Iraq.

I could try to figure out the statistics for this, but I’m not sure how to apply it. This is obviously a numbers game – the longer you play the game, the better your chances your parents or spouse will receive a, “We regret to inform you…” letter from the military.

I don’t think we should withdraw troops from Iraq, but at the same time I think what we are doing now is not working. It’s time for someone to come up with a workable strategy for Iraq – and if that strategy requires drafting new people into the military, so be it. All I ask is that the draft be fair, and that the sons of politicians aren’t given cushy jobs in the Air National Guard.

I think we will be in Iraq for a long time.