Global Policy Forum

More Troops for Iraq

New York Times
November 8, 2004

No amount of additional soldiers can guarantee achievement of the ambitious political and military goals President Bush announced last week for Iraq. The overall situation is grim, with the insurgency continuing to grow in strength and audacity and credible elections in January anything but certain. If that dynamic cannot be reversed, Washington will ultimately have to consider radically scaling back its objectives there. But that is not where Mr. Bush, and the voters who returned him to office, are headed today. So if Mr. Bush intends to keep American troops in Iraq until his stated aims are achieved, he must face up to the compelling need to increase their strength, and to commit the resources needed to give present policies at least some chance of success. That would require a minimum of two additional combat divisions, or nearly 40,000 more American troops, beyond the just over 140,000 currently planned for the Iraqi election period.

Present American force levels leave the Army and Marines too thinly stretched, and too worried about their own security to handle successfully all the challenges facing them. Besides the just begun battle for Falluja, these include protecting the elections, guarding weapons sites and safeguarding efforts to rebuild Iraq's shattered infrastructure. Iraqi security forces are now being recruited and trained, but at this point their reliability is largely unknown. Other countries in Mr. Bush's slim coalition are announcing departure dates for their troops, and few replacements are in sight.

If Mr. Bush feels he now has a mandate from the voters to stay the course until he creates a stable, unified Iraq, he owes it to the Iraqi people and Americans stationed there to commit enough additional troops to make that look like a plausible possibility. Insufficient troops in the early going made it easier for looters, saboteurs and assorted armed militias to derail earlier transition plans. Too few troops now would almost certainly mean less secure elections, further damaging delays in reconstruction and even graver threats to international aid workers and Iraqi military and police recruits. And it would mean no let-up in the risks and hardships for America's overstretched forces. A larger troop presence could permit crucial changes in the way American forces operate in Iraq. With more backup and relief available, there might be fewer scenes of stressed and frightened patrols kicking in doors and conducting humiliating household searches. There might be fewer air strikes on populated neighborhoods and fewer prison abuses, all of which tend to create new recruits for the Iraqi insurgency. There might be some more positive and winning images like American security teams permitting election workers to venture out into the Sunni heartland, high-tech surveillance units deterring attacks on vital construction work and professional trainers helping to nurture more effective Iraqi military and police forces.

Sending two more divisions to Iraq would require expanding active-duty forces by at least six divisions, since the Army needs to have at least two divisions in various stages of recuperation and training for every division deployed in a combat area. It is unrealistic to expect reserve divisions to continue filling these gaps. That makes sense in a brief emergency, but not in what has turned into a long-term military commitment. Regular Army forces have to be expanded, well beyond the currently planned temporary increase of 30,000 troops over the next several years. That can be accomplished through a significant further increase in recruitment quotas. There are more than enough potential fighting-age volunteers to do that without resorting to a draft, especially if the prospective recruits know they will not be sent into a situation where too few troops must handle too many tasks without enough assurance of regular rotation and relief.

The Pentagon has resisted calls for a permanent increase in the Army's authorized strength, in part because shifting more budget dollars to ground troops would likely require shifting them away from extravagant and unneeded procurement programs, like the Air Force's new F/A-22 stealth fighter, at a quarter billion dollars a plane. Well, such technological marvels may be thrilling to have in the inventory, but right now, what America needs is to get more combat boots on the ground in Iraq.

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