Buildup in Iraq Needed Into ’08, U.S. General Says
By DAVID S. CLOUD and MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: March 8, 2007
WASHINGTON, March 7 — The day-to-day commander of American forces in Iraq
has recommended that the heightened American troop levels there be
maintained through February 2008, military officials said Wednesday.
The White House has never said exactly how long it intends the troop buildup
to last, but military officials say the increased American force level will
begin declining in August unless additional units are sent or more units are
The confidential assessment by the commander, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno,
reflects the military’s new counterinsurgency doctrine, which puts a premium
on sustained efforts to try to win over a wary population. It also stems
from the complex logistics of deploying the five additional combat brigades
that are being sent to Iraq as part of what the White House calls a “surge”
In fact, for now, it is really more of a trickle, since only two of the five
brigades are in Iraq. The American military is stretched so thin that the
last of the brigades is not expected to begin operations until June.
In both the House and the Senate, most Democrats and many Republicans have
made clear their opposition even to the current troop increase, and a
decision by the White House to extend its duration would probably intensify
the political debate over the war.
Democratic lawmakers most strenuously opposed to the war are likely to point
to the increased stress on the armed forces in trying to persuade party
leaders to back a plan that would cut off financing for any troop increase,
a course that the Democratic leadership has so far declined to embrace. In
its effort to blunt the Congressional opposition to the new strategy, the
Bush administration has cited what it calls early signs of progress,
including a reduction in sectarian killings in Baghdad. But military
officials say it is far too soon to draw any firm conclusions.
President Bush has often said that he will listen closely to advice from
commanders in the field in making decisions about strategy and manpower in
Iraq, but Pentagon officials emphasized Wednesday that no decision to extend
the “surge” had been made. Military officials said General Odierno had
provided his assessment to his superior, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took
over as the top American commander in Iraq this year. General Petraeus has
yet to make a formal recommendation to the Pentagon.
But the question of how long the buildup should last has already become the
focus of major concern for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary
Robert M. Gates.
“We’re looking, as we should, at each of the three possibilities: hold what
you have, come down, or plus up if you need to,” Gen. Peter Pace, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon. General Pace
said that “early data points” showed that sectarian attacks were slightly
down since the Baghdad operation began. But he said that the increase in car
bombs suggested that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was trying to incite further
hostilities with this method.
When the Bush administration announced its troop buildup in January, it said
it was sending 21,500 troops to Baghdad and Anbar Province. Since then, the
Pentagon has said that as many as 7,000 additional support troops would also
be deployed, including some 2,200 additional military police that General
Petraeus had asked for to handle an anticipated increase in detainees. These
increases would bring the total number of American troops in Iraq to around
Any extension of the troop buildup would add to the strain on Army and
Marine forces that have already endured years of continuous deployments.
According to the current schedule, a Minnesota National Guard brigade whose
Iraq deployment was extended as part of the troop reinforcement is to leave
in August. A senior Pentagon official said that the number of forces would
be down to “presurge” levels in December unless additional units were sent
or kept longer.
Decisions need to be made soon, Army officials say, to identify potential
replacement units or extensions. To meet troop requirements, the Army would
need to look seriously at mobilizing additional National Guard units later
Another point of stress is the amount of time active duty units have spent
in the United States between deployments. It takes around a year at home to
prepare a combat brigade for Iraq. The Army generally has been able to avoid
sending units back to Iraq or Afghanistan without at least a year at home.
But if Mr. Bush decides to extend the buildup, the first of the Army
brigades to return to Iraq with less than a year at home are likely to do so
later this year.
“As you move to less than a year, you’re beginning to erode the ability of
the service chiefs to produce a ready force,” said a senior Pentagon
official, who emphasized that the United States needed to be prepared to
deal with a range of threats.
Despite the strains, some military officials in Iraq say it is unrealistic
to expect a troop buildup of several months to create enough of a breathing
space for Iraqis to achieve political reconciliation. “There is Washington
time and Baghdad time,” said a senior Defense official in Iraq. “Some in
Washington want it now, and there is reality on the ground in Baghdad. They
don’t always match.”
One concern is that Shiite militants and some insurgents will try to outlast
the American troops if the buildup is too short. A longer buildup would give
the American and Iraqi forces more time to disperse economic assistance,
provide better protection to Iraqi neighborhoods and try to win over the
“You have to protect the people long enough to get economic assistance to
them and change their attitude and change their behavior,” said Jack Keane,
the retired vice chief of staff of the Army, who has argued that the troop
buildup should last 12 to 18 months. “You cannot do that in weeks. It takes
months to do that. The problem with the short-term surge is that the enemy
can wait you out.”
The recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq also suggested that the
Iraqi Security Forces would not be able to assume the major responsibility
for securing Baghdad in the near future. An unclassified version of the
report noted that “the Iraqi Security Forces, particularly the Iraqi police,
will be hard pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute significantly
increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate
independently against Shia militias with success.”
Given the time needed to adjust training schedules and prepare units,
decisions may need to be made before there is clear evidence about whether
the new strategy is working. “If he defers some decisions he potentially
will foreclose deployment options downstream because people won’t begin to
move,” said a Pentagon official, referring to Secretary Gates. “By deferring
a decision he will in effect be making a decision.”
The additional American troops in the troop reinforcement plan are intended
to support a new strategy in which American forces are taking up positions
in Baghdad neighborhoods and not limiting themselves to conducting patrols
from large bases. Iraqi security forces in Baghdad are also being expanded,
including by the addition of Iraqi Army units largely made up of Kurds.
The strategy calls for the establishment of 10 districts in Baghdad. At
least one American battalion is to be paired with Iraqi units in each
district. The hope is that this plan will afford more protection to the
Iraqi public and, along with political and economic moves by the government,
head off further bloodletting.