Peters Says Some 100,000 Troops May Be Needed for Occupation Duty in Iraq

March 7, 2003

Interview
To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

Michael P. Peters, executive vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says that, if the United States invades Iraq without the backing of major allies or the Security Council, “it could be detrimental to the U.S.’s broad foreign and security policy” over the short run. But he says a successful operation could mitigate the damage.

Peters, a career Army officer who served in Vietnam, Panama, and Saudi Arabia and who also is director of studies at the Council, said that, after a U.S. victory, as many as 100,000 U.S. troops might be needed for post-war occupation duties.

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He was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on March 6, 2003, as part of an online forum on the website of nytimes.com. This is an edited version of that conversation.

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The United States seems determined to attack Iraq by the end of this month, with or without a specific authorization from the U.N. Security Council. Is the danger Iraq poses to the United States immediate enough to warrant a war at this time?

Iraq is not currently an immediate threat to the United States. However, the concern is that, left unconstrained, Saddam Hussein is determined to acquire nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, which will threaten both his neighbors and the United States. It also leaves open the distinct possibility that these weapons could fall into the hands—-either deliberately or inadvertently—-of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. These groups would certainly attempt to use these weapons against the United States and its interests around the world. Therefore, the president has decided that this potential threat must be dealt with now and the way to deal with it is to disarm Saddam Hussein.

How much harm would an attack on Iraq cause to the U.S.’s standing in the world if it occurred without the support of major countries like France, Russia, and China, and without Security Council backing?

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At least in the short run, if the United States goes to war with Iraq without the backing of the Security Council, it could be detrimental to U.S. broad foreign and security policy. However, if the war is successful and the rebuilding process in Iraq moves forward expeditiously, it is likely that the world community will participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. And a successful effort at rebuilding Iraq will work to the long-term benefit of the United States and its objectives in the world and minimize the long-term negative consequences of having gone to war without a Security Council mandate.

How many troops are now in the region ready for war, and are they sufficient for the job?

The Pentagon says there are more than 200,000 U.S. and British forces in the region. On Wednesday, General [Tommy] Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the region, said that there were sufficient forces to carry out any mission given to them by the president. And forces are continuing to move into the area, so the capability of the military increases with each passing day.

General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the other day that the Pentagon’s war plan for Iraq entailed shocking the Iraqi leadership into submission quickly. Military officers have said they will create “shock and awe” by launching some 3,000 precision-guided bombs in the first 48 hours. What is gained by announcing these plans ahead of time?

Psychological operations are a major part of any military campaign. Part of the strategy from both a military and political point of view is to persuade Saddam Hussein and his leadership that there is no other option to disarming. By announcing in general terms the devastation that might take place on Saddam, his leadership, and his forces, the United States is seeking to increase the psychological pressure on him and his regime. Therefore, you can see this statement by General Myers as part of a broader psychological operation targeting Saddam and his leadership, which, in fact, could increase the prospects of our achieving our objectives short of war.

What is the difference between “shock and awe” and “blitzkrieg”?

The fundamental difference between the two concepts is one of simultaneity. “Blitzkrieg,” which was the term created by the Germans for their armored thrusts in World War II, is conducted in a generally sequential manner—artillery and air strikes followed by ground attack. “Shock and awe” would include massive strikes with precision weapons principally from the air, along with simultaneous attacks by special operation forces and ground units. Because of advances in technology, these operations will be conducted at night, which increases their impact both physically and psychologically on the enemy.

Turkey’s reluctance so far to allow U.S. forces on its soil seems to have made a northern front in Iraq questionable. How important is it to the war effort?

The United States will definitely need to get forces into northern Iraq early in the operation. These forces are necessary to secure the oil fields in the north, to ensure that the Kurds don’t do something to complicate both the initial war and the follow-on, and to threaten Saddam’s forces from the north as well as the south.

If it cannot base forces in Turkey, the United States will have to stage forces out of Kuwait or elsewhere in the Gulf region. These forces would be either airborne or helicopter mobile forces, which, by their very nature, are more lightly armored than the Fourth Infantry Division, which the Pentagon had planned to operate out of Turkey. In addition, without an overland route through Turkey, supplies will, at least initially, have to be brought in by air, which again limits the amount of heavy equipment and personnel that can be sustained for any period of time.

Would it be worth waiting for a couple of weeks to negotiate further with the Turkish government, now that the Turkish Army is publicly backing the U.S. deployment?

From a purely military point of view, it would be worth waiting, if we could be certain that at the end of that time Turkey would approve basing U.S. forces there. However, given the uncertainty, U.S. commanders may conclude that the risk of waiting outweighs the possible benefits of Turkish basing.

Assuming the military action is successful, how large a force would be needed to prevent the disintegration of Iraq? General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told Congress last week that he thought several hundred thousand occupation troops would be needed; that estimate was later dismissed by the Pentagon’s civilian deputy Paul Wolfowitz as “wildly off the mark.”

General Shinseki has had a great deal of experience in peacekeeping operations over the course of his career. While no one can be certain of the exact number of troops that might be required to maintain stability and assist in the reconstruction of Iraq, it certainly seems to me that 100,000 troops is not beyond the realm of possibility. It is interesting to note that in the last week the Pentagon has announced the deployment of several divisions, which are likely to arrive in the theater in mid-April, when the war could well be over. This suggests to me that they are hedging on the high side in terms of the number of troops it will take for post-combat operations.

What is your opinion on whether the illness known as Gulf War Syndrome exists? And if it does exist, do you think the military is taking adequate precautions to prevent it from affecting those on the ground in a new war?

There is no doubt that some people who served in the Gulf during Desert Shield and Desert Storm acquired illnesses that were somehow related to their service there. I believe the Pentagon has made a serious effort to determine the causes of these illnesses and to treat those who are suffering from them.

From my understanding, the number of people who suffer from these illnesses is relatively limited and, therefore, it is unlikely that whatever caused these illnesses presents a serious threat to the combat effectiveness of the troops currently serving in the Gulf.

Several readers who are unhappy with the prospect of war with Iraq have asked questions similar to this from Tracy Brown: How is Iraq different from Pakistan, India, North Korea, China, and Russia regarding weapons of mass destruction?

One fundamental difference is that none of these states have actually used weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein has used both chemical and probably biological weapons on his own citizens and attempted to use them against Iranian forces. This willingness to use weapons of mass destruction puts Saddam into a very different category than any of the other states which you mentioned.

The fact that the North Koreans have nuclear weapons severely complicates our ability to deal with them and the threat they represent in the region. This is precisely why the Bush administration argues that we need to disarm Saddam Hussein and prevent him from acquiring nuclear weapons.

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