U.S. poised to destroy Fallujah as U.S. force levels seen as inadequate
As the U.S. prepares for a possible bloody showdown in Fallujah -- risking an even wider and more violent uprising throughout Iraq -- the U.S. military considers dwindling options available to meet what is considered to be the minimal man-power required to maintain the U.S. position in Iraq. Despite strong re-enlistment numbers for seasoned combat troops, there just isn't much slack left. One option under consideration is immediately calling up the Oregon-Idaho 116th Armored Cavalry Brigade (National Guard).
It's official. U.S. military leaders do not believe that the U.S. forces are adequate, or are going to be adequate any time soon, to accomplish whatever the mission in Iraq is supposed to be. According to a "Q&A" on "Troop Strength in Iraq" -- by the N. Y. Times with the Council on Foreign Relations, (published Saturday, April 24) -- experts have told the Senate Armed Services Committee that 31 of the Army's 33 combat brigades will have been deployed for combat between March 2003 and June 2004.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "The Pentagon says it is developing plans to keep American troop levels in Iraq at 135,000 or higher after the June 30 handover of political control to a transitional Iraqi government. The number of U.S. forces had been scheduled to drop to about 110,000 this spring, but a surge in anti-coalition violence in April, combined with the lackluster performance of many Iraqi security units, persuaded U.S. generals to maintain the higher force levels."
Supposedly, the "130,000 or so troops that have been in Iraq for a year are in the process of returning home and being replaced by fresh forces." The reality, however, is that the U.S. has had to break a pledge "to keep individual soldiers in Iraq no longer than one year." Even soldiers whose terms of enlistment have been satisfied are being kept in Iraq through extending their enlistments.
Entire units that were to have left Iraq by June 30, mostly combat troops, are being kept longer,, including the 1st Armored Division with 14,300 troops. What will happen when these units eventually do return home is unclear.
Here are more excerpts from the N. Y. Times "Q&A" quoting Sharon Otterman (cfr.org) speaking for the Council on Foreign Relations:
"Some 20,000 troops have had their tours extended by three months to augment the incoming units."
"Only 2,000 troops are being withdrawn [in the pullout of Spanish and other foreign forces], so the military impact is minor, experts say. But the political and psychological repercussions are significant. 'It suggests that the coalition could be beginning to crack,' says retired Army General Wayne Downing."
"[A] growing chorus of former generals and politicians has called for more forces, and the Pentagon is developing contingency plans to send them if the violence has not eased by July. 'It is painfully clear that we need more troops,' said Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on April 22. 'Before the war, the U.S. Army chief of staff said that several hundred thousand troops would be necessary to keep the peace. While criticized at the time, General [Eric K.] Shinseki now looks prescient,' he said."
"Eight of the Army's 10 active divisions, which average about 15,000 troops each, are tied down with Iraq commitments. They are either in Iraq, on their way there, or recently returned home, says Michael P. Peters, executive vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Army officer. That leaves two possible divisions:
"The 3rd Infantry Division. It spearheaded the Iraq invasion and returned to Fort Stewart, Georgia, in July and August 2003. The division is scheduled to go back to Iraq in late 2004, but its deployment may be moved up to this summer.
"The 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. This force, which would defend South Korea from a North Korean attack, could be moved without much of a military impact, because 'the South Korean army is large and capable,' Peters says. On the other hand, taking the division out of Korea--which many analysts say is unlikely--'would be an extreme step, Peters says, 'with tremendous political costs in the Korean Peninsula and beyond.'
"Alternatively, forces could come from the Marines or National Guard:
"The Marines. Additional Marines could come from any one of the three Marine Expeditionary Forces, or MEFs, that comprise the service. Much of MEF I is already deployed in the Sunni triangle area of Iraq. Some forces may be available from MEF II, which is based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Experts say a last resort option would be to bring in MEF III, which is based in Okinawa, Japan, and serves as a strategic reserve in the Pacific. 'Moving them would be risky, but doable,' Peters says."
"The National Guard. Some analysts say the Army could accelerate the deployment of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, based in Tennessee, the 116th Armored Cavalry Brigade, based in Idaho and Oregon, and the 256th Infantry Brigade, based in Louisiana. These units were expected to go to Iraq in late 2004 or early 2005."
"Some 40 percent of the new troops rotating into Iraq this spring are reservists or National Guard, according to the Pentagon. Twenty to twenty-five percent of the homeward-bound soldiers are reservists. . . . This is the largest mobilization of National Guard and Reserve units since 1950, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee."
"'They [U.S. forces] can keep this up indefinitely, but they are going to pay a price,' says Lawrence J. Korb, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. 'There's a real danger that, if this pace of operations continues, the quality of the force is going to deteriorate,' Peters says. Among the problems: the forces won't have sufficient time to train and refit for future missions, they and their equipment will become worn out, and morale will suffer. Ultimately, because U.S. forces are made up entirely of volunteers, recruitment and enlistments will fall. This potential manpower loss has been headed off in the short term by the military's "stop-loss" order, which mandates that active duty soldiers and reserves deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan may not leave the service until 90 days after they return home."
"There are about 492,000 soldiers on active duty, according to the Department of Defense. At the end of the Cold War, in 1991, there were 710,800 soldiers on active duty. At the height of the Vietnam conflict, there were 1,512,000 troops."
"There are currently about 178,000 [Marines]. While the Army dropped steeply in size in the 1990s, the number of Marines has remained relatively stable. However, the Corps' commitments have increased. 'The Marines are straining, given all of the obligations they have,' says retired Marine Corps General Bernard E. Trainor, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"In general, only about one-third of the Army's divisions should be deployed at any one time, to give the forces time to retrain and prepare for the next mission, Peters says. But according to current deployment schedules, 31 of the Army's 33 combat brigades will have been deployed for combat between March 2003 and June 2004, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Another problem is that many of the forces in Iraq are being pulled from the reserves, and therefore are limited to two-year deployments. This includes the majority of the military police, engineering units, civil affairs officers, and hospital personnel serving in Iraq."
"U.S. senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), introduced legislation in March to expand the size of the volunteer Army by 30,000 soldiers. The increase would cost $3.6 billion annually."
"Senator Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has also said he wants the United States to consider reviving the draft as part of a broader effort to ensure that all Americans "bear some responsibility" for defending the nation's interests against the terror threat."
"One of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's goals is to move thousands of soldiers into combat brigades from desk jobs that could be performed by civilian Defense Department workers or government contractors. This will sharpen U.S. capabilities by "increasing the Army's tooth-to-tail ratio," Peters says."
"President Bush has approved a $660 million program to train and equip peacekeeping forces in other countries, especially in Africa, The Washington Post reported. But this five-year program will take a while to bear fruit, and its soldiers won't be trained for the kind of heavy combat U.S. troops in Iraq are engaged in."
"[E]ven if European nations agreed to support the mission, most would have few forces to send. 'There's not much extra capacity in Western Europe,' Peters says. Turkey has many combat-ready forces. But Iraqi leaders have insisted that these troops stay out of Iraq, primarily because of long-standing animosity between Turks and Iraqi Kurds."
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