IRAQ: Troop Reinforcements

February 2, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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Why is the Pentagon bolstering U.S. forces in Iraq?

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. American soldiers have expanded operations in Iraq to fight the insurgents and back up other members of the coalition. Meanwhile, Spain and two other nations have decided to withdraw their troops, and no other countries have yet offered to fill in the gap.

What is the impact of the pullout of Spanish and other foreign forces?

Only 2,000 troops are being withdrawn, so the military impact is minor, experts say.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.

Along with the 1,400 Spanish troops, 370 Honduran soldiers and 300 from the Dominican Republic are heading home. While most other members of the coalition appear to be holding firm, Thai officials have said they will withdraw their 451 medical and engineering troops if they come under attack. Some of the foreign troops in Iraq had assumed they would be conducting relatively safe peacekeeping tasks and are unprepared for combat.

Which countries remain?

The coalition still has 31 members with forces in Iraq. The top contributors after the United States and their troop levels:

  • Britain: 8,700

  • Italy: 3,000

  • Poland: 2,400

  • Ukraine: 1,650

  • Netherlands: 1,000

  • Thailand: 900

  • Australia: 850

  • Romania: 700

  • South Korea: 600

The remaining 20 countries contribute a total of 3,900 soldiers.

How does the increase in U.S. troops fit with the massive troop rotation currently under way?

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. Some 20,000 troops have had their tours extended by three months to augment the incoming units. U.S. generals had pledged to keep individual soldiers in Iraq no longer than one year but had to break that pledge when the violence increased.

Which units are staying longer?

Most of them are combat troops:

The remaining soldiers include:

  • Three units of engineers, totaling 1,150 soldiers

  • An air ambulance crew

  • An aviation company

  • Military police

  • Medical personnel

Will additional soldiers be sent to Iraq when these units return home?

It’s still not clear. But 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.

Which additional U.S. units are available for duty in Iraq?

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

The 2nd Infantry

The Marines. Additional Marines could come from

The National Guard. Some analysts say the Army

What’s the status of the reservists and National Guard?

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. The new troops will include National Guard units from North Carolina, Washington, and Arkansas. As of April 14, 150,289 of the 558,000 members of the National Guard and Army Reserve were on active duty. This is the largest mobilization of National Guard and Reserve units since 1950, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

How long can the U.S. military keep up this pace of operations?

"They 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 reenlistments 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.

How many soldiers are in the Army?

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.

How many Marines are there?

There are currently about 178,000. 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.

Is the Army overstretched?

Many experts say yes. 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. Some experts say that the regular, active Army should train more troops to perform these tasks. "If we are going to have a long-term commitment in Iraq, we have to do something to beef up the regulars," Trainor says.

What are the various plans to address this problem?

Increase the size of the active Army. U.S. senators

Reinstitute the draft. Senator Hagel, a Vietnam

Reorganize existing forces. One of Defense Secretary

Build up peacekeeping forces internationally.

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.

    Win the cooperation of other countries. U.S. military

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