U.S. Army signals war concerns (poster, article)
U.S. Army fears that bringing democracy and stability to Iraq may be an impossible task. (Article below)
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For Army, Fears of Postwar Strife
Iraq's Historic Factions May Severely Test a U.S. Occupying Force
By Vernon Loeb and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 11, 2003; Page A01
The U.S. Army is bracing both for war in Iraq and a postwar occupation that could tie up two to three Army divisions in an open-ended mission that would strain the all-volunteer force and put soldiers in the midst of warring ethnic and religious factions, Army officers and other senior defense officials say.
While the officers believe a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans and now Afghanistan makes the Army uniquely qualified for the job, they fear that bringing democracy and stability to Iraq may be an impossible task.
An occupation force of 45,000 to 60,000 Army troops -- the range under consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- could force an end to peace-time training and rotation cycles in a service already deployed in Germany, Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai.
Army officials note that they missed reserve recruiting goals in January and February, as potential reservists faced lengthy overseas deployments instead of the regular commitment of 39 days a year. There is even talk among senior officers that the Marine Corps may be assigned peacekeeping chores in northern Iraq to help share the burden.
But the greatest source of concern among senior Army leaders is the uncertainty and complexity of the mission in postwar Iraq, which could require U.S. forces to protect Iraq's borders, referee clashes between ethnic and religious groups, ensure civilian security, provide humanitarian relief, secure possible chemical and biological weapons sites, and govern hundreds of towns and villages.
Should U.S. forces succeed in overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, they will inherit a country divided among armed and organized Kurdish factions in the north, restless majority Shiites in the south and a Sunni population that has been the backbone of Hussein's Baath Party rule. Adding to the complexity will be the interests of at least two bordering powers -- Turkey, which has its own Kurdish minority and opposes any move toward greater Kurdish autonomy, and Iran, which has historic ties to Iraqi Shiites.
"There's going to be a power vacuum," said one senior defense official sympathetic to the Army. "How will that be filled? I'm not an expert in the region, but if you use the Balkans as a model, we may be getting into the middle of a civil war."
"The Army is wary of being the one left to clean up after the party is over," added retired Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash commanded the first Army peacekeeping operation in the Balkans in 1995. He also occupied the area around the Iraqi town of Safwan on the Kuwaiti border with three battalions for 21/2 months after the 1991 Gulf War. During that mission, his troops dealt with recurring murders, attempted murders, "ample opportunity for civil disorder," and refugee flows they never could fully fathom, he said.
Nash said he believes 200,000 U.S. and allied forces will be necessary to stabilize Iraq, noting that up to two divisions alone -- 25,000 to 50,000 troops -- could be required just to guard any chemical or biological weapons sites that are discovered until the weapons are disposed of properly.
"There's apprehension inside the Army as to the extent of the mission and a concern that there hasn't been the recognition by the senior leadership -- I read civilian -- as to the enormity of the challenge," Nash said.
The Army's concern bubbled up publicly two weeks ago when Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "several hundred thousand soldiers" could be necessary for peacekeeping duties. Two days later, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz -- one of the architects of the president's postwar ambitions in Iraq -- took the unusual step of publicly differing with the Army chief, dismissing his estimate as "way off the mark."
Shinseki and other defense officials have said they hope allied forces will contribute significantly to the postwar mission, though it is unclear how much other countries will be willing to pitch in. The Bush administration has experienced difficulties recruiting other countries to send forces to the Afghan peacekeeping mission.
Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said recent history shows that 60,000 peacekeepers were needed in Bosnia to separate warring ethnic factions, just one facet of the mission that could confront the Army in postwar Iraq. And Bosnia's population is 4 million, 17 percent of Iraq's 23 million.
"I have no doubt that the Army is perfectly capable of doing an extraordinarily good job on this," Daalder said. "This is something we know how to do, as long as the administration is willing to learn from what we did in the 1990s, and that's a big if."
Daalder, a former Clinton administration official, has argued that the reconstruction of Afghanistan would be much further along had the Bush administration contributed U.S. forces to an international peacekeeping force that is now confined to the Kabul area. Senior Bush officials, including the president, came into office disdainful of what they said was an over-commitment of American forces by President Bill Clinton to needless nation-building operations around the world.
"If Afghanistan is the model for Iraq, we're in deep, deep trouble," Daalder said. "The administration has done the minimum necessary there to avoid disaster, and I think what Iraq requires is the maximum necessary to ensure success. It's a different standard. If they do the minimum necessary to avoid disaster, there's going to be a problem."
Underscoring the concerns, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, head of the Pentagon's office for postwar planning, cancelled his scheduled testimony today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R.-Ind.), the committee chairman, said the Pentagon declined to send a deputy in Garner's place, and called the cancellation "a missed opportunity for the administration."
Postwar Iraq promises to be highly volatile. In the north, two well-armed and well-organized Kurdish factions have enjoyed semi-autonomy under the protection of U.S. and British jets patrolling the northern "no-fly" zone. Longtime rivals, they have achieved an uneasy truce in anticipation of a U.S. invasion to unseat Hussein.
They have been warned by the administration not to push for a Kurdish state. In turn, the Kurds have warned Turkey not to send troops into northern Iraq once the fighting starts to establish a buffer zone to control Kurdish refugees.
In the south, around Basra, Shiites -- who represent a majority of Iraq's population -- have bitterly opposed Hussein's leadership since 1991, when the Iraqi president crushed Shiite uprisings after the Gulf War. Many Shiites, led by the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, still hold the United States responsible for facilitating the slaughter by allowing Hussein's military to fly attack helicopters against them.
Hundreds of Shiite militiamen, backed by the Supreme Council and the Iranian government, have recently moved across the border and set up an armed camp in northern Iraq, from which they plan on fighting the Iraqi military once a U.S.-led invasion begins.
The heart of the country, greater Baghdad, a sprawling metropolis of 6 million mostly Sunni and Shiite Muslims, is also likely to be torn apart by strife and intrigue, with revenge killings of officials from Hussein's Baath Party likely after its brutal reign.
Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst who argues in favor of invading Iraq, said he believes most Iraqis would see U.S. troops as liberators, at least initially. But he said he is worried about the fall of Hussein creating a destabilizing power vacuum. "What I am nervous about, if the U.S. goes to war in the next week or so, is that we won't have enough troops to provide the kind of immediate security presence to ensure that there isn't going to be a power vacuum," he said.
The Army and the Marine Corps have extensive experience conducting stability operations in Iraq, having staged a humanitarian mission involving 20,000 troops called Operation Provide Comfort for 31/2 months after the Gulf War ended. Designed to protect Kurds, it was far more forceful than is connoted by the phrase "relief operation," said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, who commanded an infantry battalion during the mission.
While U.S. forces began by confronting the Iraqi military, they ended up squaring off with Kurdish militia, a cautionary tale for U.S. peacekeepers entering the north.
"It was really a wild time, a very bloody time," said an officer who served in Provide Comfort, noting that the operation involved multi-front fighting in which Kurds attacked Iraqi security forces, and also attacked each other, while the Turkish military attacked one Kurdish faction, the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK.
Provide Comfort could provide a glimpse of what postwar Iraq might look like, particularly in the north -- and what type of military response may be necessary.
Indeed, one senior U.S. commander of the 1991 operation predicted that northern Iraq could turn ugly quickly once again. "If you put Turkish troops on the ground, they will get in a fight with the Kurds," he said. "The Kurds have had their own world down there, and they want to keep it, and the Turkish tendency is to solve their own problems with force."
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