Monday, July 11, 2005

66,000 by Spring 06?

I am not that much in a flutter about the recent British leak of the US/UK desire to cut troop levels in Iraq by more than 50% by Spring of next year. The British desire to do so has been telegraphed by the plans to redeploy at least one full brigade to Afghanistan at the end of this year, early next year. The US intention to reduce manpower has been starting to emerge with a bipartisan consensus that Iraq is neither a profitable nor sustainable enterprise and that the other party can be blamed for the fiasco. Most US Army units are on the second tour, and most Marine infantry battalions are either in their third or prepping for the third tour. Sustainability is a massive concern. So as I noted several months ago, the US options were to pray for either a deux ex machina or declare victory and wait for a decent interval before the civil war kicks off in full.

The interesting thing to note is that the new proposed number of 66,000 troops is at the low end of what the Congressional Budget Office argued in 2003 was the maximum sustainable presence in Iraq. (see report here[big PDF]) This level, if security in Iraq improves sufficiently, (which I doubt, given that Op. Lightening is considered a success as only 1-3 car bombs a day go off in Baghdad and it looks like operations just shifted to the north and west of the city during that sweep)is enough for the US to guarantee nominal territorial integrity but little else. It might be a good idea; it might not be, but it is one of the few ideas that are not immediately horrendous.

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