Global Policy Forum

Does the US Need the Draft?


By Mark Thompson

October 18, 2004

Both Bush and Kerry say no. But with America tied down in Iraq, military officials say they may need more troops to win the war — and the next one.

With explosions and gunfire echoing in the distance, the Marines in the observation post in downtown Ramadi know they are at war. They're just not sure who — or where — the enemy is. In restive Iraqi cities like Ramadi, the U.S. campaign to deny sanctuary to the insurgents consists of a daily assortment of hit-and-run exchanges, alleyway gunfights and nighttime raids. "They've taken the fight into the neighborhoods," says Captain Jeffrey Kenney, commander of Golf Company of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. "The hardest thing is to ID where the fire is coming from." The jarheads long for a pitched battle but know that will never happen because the rebels aren't suicidal. The Marines must seek out the insurgents and monitor the places where they hide, which is why these Marines are hunkered down in a bullet-pocked building overlooking the Grand Mosque, scanning the streets and rooftops for rebel gunmen. It's exasperating work. "They tend not to get us because they're lousy shots," says Sergeant Jeremy Barone. "We tend not to get them because they run away."

Peril lurks around every corner. Even in Ramadi, a Sunni town that the U.S. military considers under its control, the Marines are ambushed nearly every day by insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades. Convoys passing through the city must navigate a minefield of roadside bombs. The violence has made it impossible to carry out missions to win the hearts and minds of the locals, most of whom have never warmed to the U.S. presence. The Marines in Ramadi don't use tanks and rarely call in air support; instead, they rely on guile, guts and instinct to hunt down the insurgents. Given the task at hand and the large area of operations, units like Captain Kenney's Golf Company look as if they could use help. But with just 137,000 U.S. troops in Iraq trying to defeat an insurgency that has spread to more than two dozen cities and towns, the Marines know they can't expect much. "Could you spend more time here and get a better impression of the city? Absolutely," Kenney says. "Do I need more people? No, I don't."

Over the course of the U.S. adventure in Iraq, military commanders and Bush Administration officials have been united in their insistence that they have enough troops to win the war, despite the fact that parts of the country have slipped out of the control of the U.S. and its Iraqi allies as the insurgency has grown in ferocity. The consensus seemed to crumble last week, when L. Paul Bremer III, former top U.S. official in Iraq, told a West Virginia audience that "we never had enough troops on the ground" to prevent the looting and chaos that wracked Baghdad after the U.S. invasion last spring. Bremer later scrambled to amend his remarks, contending that whatever the shortfalls last spring, the U.S. now had sufficient numbers in Iraq. But his comments emboldened critics like Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry who blast the Administration for mismanaging the war, and added to nervousness about the military's high-stakes offensive to seize control of the Sunni triangle from the insurgents in time for nationwide elections in January. U.S. officials say that as part of the strategy, the interim Iraqi government will try to win over the rebel-controlled towns by pouring security personnel and reconstruction funds into them, hoping to wean local residents from their support of the insurgents. If that doesn't work — and if the central government is unable to negotiate peace with the guerrillas — the U.S. military and its Iraqi allies are prepared to attack.

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