IRAQ: U.S. Troop Rotation

February 2, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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How many soldiers are involved in the U.S.

Approximately 130,000 U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq in the next four months after deployments of up to one year. They will be replaced by some 110,000 fresh soldiers and marines, according to the U.S. Defense Department. Some 11,000 soldiers in Afghanistan will also be replaced by new troops. The process has already begun and will be complete by the summer, says Captain Bruce Frame, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command (Centcom).

Which units are leaving Iraq?

The following major units are rotating out of Iraq:

  • 82nd Airborne Division (Army), which covered the western region of Iraq, from Karbala up to (but not including) Mosul and to the borders of Jordan and Syria.
  • 1st Armored Division(Army), stationed in Baghdad.
  • 4th Infantry Division (Army), based in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and responsible for the country’s northeast, including Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya.
  • 101st Airborne Division (Army), stationed in Mosul and responsible for the north.

Which units are going to Iraq?

The following major units are heading into Iraq:

Small numbers of Air Force and Navy troops will also be deployed. In addition, experts say, the Army Third Corps, a command staff under Lieutenant General ThomasMetzbased in Fort Hood, Texas, will deploy to Baghdad, where Metz will take over command of the military operations in the country. Metz will serve under Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who has been in Iraq since the war began in March 2003; he is scheduled to leave Iraq soon after Metz arrives.

Will there be any overlap of troops?

Yes. Members of command staffs are already in Iraq--the 1st Infantry sent its team in October 2003--getting acclimated to local conditions and learning from the command staff slated to rotate out. "Those leaders went to Iraq and visited with the folks they were going to succeed and exchanged information face-to-face," said Air Force Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a briefing for the House Armed Services Committee on January 28. "This allowed units to tailor training plans to the particular area and needs of their locations." In addition, the arriving soldiers will overlap in their posts for about two weeks with the soldiers heading home. The practice is called "contact relief," says Colonel John T. Boggs, U.S. Marine Corps military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who says that learning about a conflict situation from already deployed soldiers is invaluable. In the army’s "Left Seat/Right Seat" system, a new officer will ride patrols in the right (passenger) seat with an experienced officer driving. Then they switch. "The exchange of information is probably the most critical piece" of the rotation, Major Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry in Tikrit told The Chicago Tribune.

What are the logistical challenges the troop rotation poses?

In addition to nearly a quarter of a million soldiers, the exercise will move about 600,000 tons of equipment, according to the Pentagon. News reports say that some 50,000 support staff will be needed to manage what is the biggest movement of personnel and arms since World War II. Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the rotation "a logistics feat that will rival any in history."

What are the security concerns?

Some military experts worry that the large-scale movement of people into and out of Iraq could create tempting targets for the ongoing insurgency. Much of the thousands of tons of equipment and weaponry will be trucked through Kuwait and then along Iraq’s primary north-south highway, where the convoys could be vulnerable to attack. Planes and helicopters ferrying troops from bases in Kuwait and Turkey could also be targets for surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. "There is the potential for a high-visibility attack on the part of the insurgents," says Michael P. Peters, a career army officer and executive vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Frame, the Centcom spokesman, agrees, saying the massive force rotation may provide a "window of opportunity" for insurgents. But he says the military is prepared. "Our security measures in Iraq and Afghanistan, where our troops suffer daily or weekly attacks, are [already] very high," he says. "We’re always concerned about the security of our service members."

What percentage of the new troops are reservists?

Forty percent, according to Centcom. Twenty percent to 25 percent of homeward-bound soldiers are reservists. In addition, the new troops will include National Guard units from North Carolina, Washington, and Arkansas.

Have troops heading into Iraq undergone any special training?

Yes. Many of the arriving army troops underwent a two-week training course run by the Jordanian military to sensitize them to Arab society, The Chicago Tribune reported. The Marines, who fought in the war and then left Iraq last summer, will draw on their knowledge of the area when they head back in. They’ve also studied strategies used by the Los Angeles Police Department for policing urban, gang-controlled areas. Boggs says that marines prepare for what they call "three-block war": within three blocks, they expect to act as diplomats, soldiers, and policemen. Before heading back to Iraq, some 400 marines also received intensive Arabic-language immersion training, General Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the House Armed Services Committee on January 28.

What other assistance do they have?

The forces rotating in will have some advantages over their fellow soldiers who wrapped up Operation Iraqi Freedom in 26 days and then, with little preparation, embarked on a months-long mission to pacify and occupy the country. The army has created Task Force I.E.D. (improvised explosive device) to target and destroy the remote-controlled roadside bombs favored by insurgents that have proven so deadly against coalition forces. The task force will eventually grow to 300 soldiers, The New York Times reported. Boggs says U.S. Marines, traditionally deployed in conflict and peacekeeping situations, are used to quickly learning local culture and history and are very respectful of indigenous customs. In Iraq, Boggs says, that includes learning an Iraqi greeting that involves kissing on both cheeks.

Are the new troops prepared to take over for the outgoing soldiers?

As much as they can be, say experts, but military analysts say that replacing experienced soldiers with new ones has the potential to weaken tactics. "The real issue is effectiveness on the ground," says Peters. "How long will it take the new troops to get up to where the old troops were when they left? The overall level of security in Iraq, not just for U.S. troops but for Iraqis themselves, is the most important issue." This is especially true, Peters says, because the insurgents are doing everything they can to create as much instability as possible and discourage Iraqis from cooperating with coalition forces. Frame agrees that the learning curve for the military is steep. "This is somewhat new to us: nation-building or nation reconstruction," he says. "It’s something that everyone’s learning every day, after every exercise."

Are the non-American troops in Iraq rotating out?

Many experts say that, with the exception of the British, none of the other coalition nations have sizable enough forces--or have been there nearly as long--for troop rotation to be the kind of issue it is for the United States.

The following countries have troops in Iraq, according to The Washington Post:

  • Britain: 11,000
  • Poland: 2,400
  • Italy: 2,300
  • Ukraine: 1,650
  • Spain: 1,300
  • Netherlands: 1,100
  • South Korea: 3,000 (non-combat)
  • Japan: 600

A Polish-led multinational force controls Iraq’s south-central region south of Baghdad. The British head a multinational force in the far south, around Basra and Nasiriya.

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