More Troops Mean More Trouble
Pentagon's announcement this week that it is adding 12,000 more
troops to the approximately 138,000 soldiers it already has in Iraq
has put an abrupt end to the fleeting sense of triumph that followed
November's "victory" by U.S. Marines who regained control
of Fallujah, the main Sunni rebel stronghold.
the administration sought to spin the decision as a matter of keeping
the insurgents "on the run" and backing up security for
elections scheduled to take place Jan. 30, most analysts have described
the move as an effective admission that Washington's counter-insurgency
campaign has not, in fact, been going particularly well.
conclusion was anticipated to some extent just the day before, as
the Pentagon confirmed 134 U.S. servicemen were killed in November,
making it the most lethal month since the March 2003 invasion along
with April, when the same number of soldiers were killed battling
Sunni rebels and Shia insurgents in Baghdad and in the occupied
the recent disappointing performance of Iraqi police and security
forces, the influx of more U.S. troops marks at least a symbolic
setback to the larger strategy of "Iraqification," or
giving indigenous Iraqi forces more responsibility for maintaining
order and keeping the largely Sunni insurrection in check.
fear that it signals a 're-Americanization' ... of our strategy
in Iraq," retired Army Col. Ralph Hallenback, who worked with
the U.S. occupation in 2003, told Thursday's Washington Post.
announcement also offered an "I-told-you-so" moment to
any number of critics, who have argued from the outset that the
Pentagon's civilian leadership, in hoping to prove that wars could
be won with fewer forces, more firepower and greater speed, was
their argument goes, might have made a major tactical if
not strategic mistake in not carrying out the 2003 invasion
and subsequent occupation with a far bigger force, as the Army had
believe we should have had more at the beginning. Some of the difficulties
we have in Iraq may not have had the same impact as they are having
now," said Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who was visiting
Baghdad with a congressional delegation Thursday.
like many other Vietnam War veterans, has long argued that when
Washington commits its troops abroad it should do so only with overwhelming
force and a clear "exit strategy" key elements
of what came to be known as the Powell Doctrine, named for the outgoing
secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
the vets, one of the most important lessons of the whole Indochina
debacle was to scrupulously avoid situations in which U.S. forces
found themselves in an escalating guerrilla war, where the only
way to contain a growing insurgency was to deploy more troops to
troops at this point is the opposite of what senior Pentagon officials
expected when the war began in March 2003," noted the Post's
veteran military correspondent Thomas Ricks.
now face the plain fact that the insurgency is growing," wrote
Joseph Galloway, Ricks' experienced counterpart at Knight Ridder
Newspapers, who scorned the claims of one widely quoted senior U.S.
military commander that the Fallujah campaign had "broken the
back of the insurgency."
noted that rebels had recently been mounting as many as 150 attacks
a day 10 times the number of one year ago.
does my mind keep going back to the ... Powell doctrine," he
asked in reference to lessons learned in Vietnam, "which the
current civilian leadership in the Pentagon declared dead and gone
while they were doing their victory laps and praising their own
strategy of smaller, faster, deadlier in the field of military affairs?"
announcement on troop numbers raises yet another bogeyman from the
Vietnam era the administration's "credibility"
in conducting the war, particularly when the top civilian leadership
not only had insisted from the start that the number of "boots
on the ground" was adequate, but had also ridiculed senior
retired and active-duty military officials who publicly warned before
the invasion that many more would be needed.
should have leveled with the American people in the beginning,"
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden who is traveling with Hagel
told reporters in Baghdad.
was absolutely inevitable," that more troops would be needed,
he said, adding that the administration's claims that January's
elections and the training of more Iraqi security forces would permit
Washington to rapidly draw down its troops beginning as early as
the end of 2005 were unrealistic.
U.S. escalation, he said, "[has] made American citizens believe
that they were ... misled or that things are in a worse shape [than
they have been told]."
in worse shape is the military itself. Troops who were originally
promised tours of duty that would not exceed 12 months at the absolute
most are now looking at extensions of two months at least. Some
units originally scheduled to return home in October have been told
they will have to wait until March 2005.
noted by the New York Times, extending the tours of duty
"is risking problems with morale and retention," which
is already a rising concern both in the ranks and on Capitol Hill.
didn't help that the much-read "Perspectives" page of
Newsweek this week featured Marine Staff Sgt. Russell Slay's
"instructions" to his 5-year-old son in a letter he sent
to his family shortly before he was killed in Iraq. "Be studious,
stay in school, and stay away from the military. I mean it."
week, the Army National Guard announced it has fallen significantly
behind its recruiting goals this fall, continuing a downward slide
that began last year. The Guard missed its October target by 30
the same time, the Baltimore Sun reported the Army is planning
to pull officers out of military professional schools or delay their
entry into academic programs in order to meet "wartime needs."
It is also considering curbing "family-oriented programs,"
such as one that permits soldiers to extend their tours of duty
at particular U.S. bases so their children can finish high school.
the Los Angeles Times reported last week that the Marine
Corps is offering bonuses of up to $30,000, in some cases tax-free,
to persuade enlisted personnel with combat experience or training
reports are feeding efforts by some lawmakers to add as many as
50,000 soldiers to the armed forces, an expense that Pentagon and
so-called "deficit hawks" in Congress would prefer desperately
to avoid. Deficits, indeed, are another bad word dating from the
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service