December 7, 2005
What's Next in Iraq?
the war in Iraq say there is nothing new in the "National
Strategy for Victory" President Bush outlined at the Naval
Academy last week. This is one of the rare instances where critics
of the war in Iraq have gotten something right.
I read carefully
both the 35-page document prepared by the National Security Council
and the text of President Bush's speech outlining it, and found
in them nothing I didn't already know. This is what I expected.
One shouldn't change a sound strategy when it is clear it is bearing
fruit. All that's happening is that the president finally is explaining
his strategy to the American people.
most of our troops come home? The short answer is: when Iraq has
a stable, democratic government capable of defending itself.
So when will
that be? Pretty soon. There need not be a significant weakening
of the resistance before there can be a substantial withdrawal
of U.S. troops.
The key to
the U.S. security strategy is to create Iraqi army and police
units of sufficient size and quality to be able to protect the
country (mostly) by themselves. As the president put it in earlier
contexts: "As they stand up, we'll stand down."
army will be "built out" (reach the size planned for
it) by May or June of next year, and the Iraqi police are slated
to be "built out" early in 2007.
large number of casualties from terrorist attacks, there's been
no shortage of recruits for the Iraqi army and police. Though
performance has sometimes been spotty, for the most part Iraqi
soldiers perform well in combat. "A year ago, (insurgents)
freely attacked the Iraqi military," said Army Brigadier
Gen. Daniel Bolger, who is in charge of training Iraqi soldiers.
"So the hostiles have resorted to remote bombings because
they cannot stand and fight the Iraqi soldiers anymore."
situation is much improved over a year ago, said Steve Southerland,
a retired Air Force officer now working as a civilian contractor
in Iraq. "I have been here nearly 14 months, Steve said in
an email to me. "When I arrived I was greeted by no less
than 5-18 mortar attacks per day at Camp Anaconda (in Baghdad).
The International zone was no better. All that has changed. We
actually see people walking their pets on the streets and the
mortar and rocket attacks are extremely rare."
situation has improved chiefly because there are now so many Iraqi
troops in the field. The president said 80 Iraqi battalions (500-800
men each) are now in the fight, and 3,500 new police officers
are being trained every 10 weeks.
number and skill of the Iraqi soldiers and cops means that they
can garrison communities once they have been cleared of insurgents.
and hold" is having a powerfully deleterious effect on the
resistance, because it means the terrorists (largely) are unable
to recover lost ground. The harmful effect on the resistance will
multiply in the months to come, as more Iraqi units join the fight,
and existing units gain more experience.
there are about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, up from 137,000 to
provide additional protection for the referendum on the constitution
in October (which proceeded almost without incident), and for
the election for a permanent government under that constitution
scheduled for Dec. 15th. A few weeks after that election is over
and a new government is formed, troop levels will drop back to
the 137,000 level, probably a little further. More reductions
-- to or just a little more than 100,000 troops -- will be made
once the Iraqi army is "built out" in May or June.
of the U.S. forces that will remain in Iraq will change. Iraqis
will take the lead in fighting and patrolling, with U.S. forces
as backup. Most of the bases from which U.S. troops currently
are operating will be turned over to the Iraqis.
only one Iraqi army battalion is considered capable of operating
entirely on its own. The others rely on Americans for fire (artillery
and air) support, logistical support, and some intelligence support.
It will take
a few years to build up support units in the Iraqi military. But
most U.S. combat units likely will be out of the country by the
end of 2007, sooner if the resistance continues to weaken at the
rate it has in the last several months.
The war in
Iraq is being won everywhere except in the news coverage of it.
The president must continue speaking out. The people aren't going
to get the truth unless he tells it.
Kelly is national security columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
and the Blade of Toledo, Ohio.