US Generals at Odds over Troop Drawdown Tempo
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US defense secretary Robert Gates’ unannounced visit to Baghdad Monday, Feb. 11, was accompanied by two suicide bombings and a strike by the Sunni Awakening Councils, in which the US army has set great store for sustained security across Iraq.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources described the strains between the Joint Chiefs, particularly between the chairman, Adm. Michael Mullen and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, on one side, and the Iraqi command headed by Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, on the other.
Gen. Petraeus predicts the Iraq conflict, far from slowing down in the second half of the US presidential year, will gain in fury just about the time when a new US president takes office. He therefore advises planning cutbacks after the July 2008 beyond the “red line” minimum of 130,000. Mullen and Casey want to hand the security package over to the Iraqi army and other pro-US forces in Iraq, such as Sunni Arab and Kurdish allies much sooner.
The two groups of military leaders differ over how to read the bottom line of the intelligence assessments laid before them.
1. The generals on the spot see logistical preparations by Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda for transmuting their resistance model from sporadic, terrorist-guerilla-type strikes against US forces to organized military warfare. They are planning to build front lines on territory they control or capture in different parts of Iraq as bases for a war of attrition against the American army.
This scenario must confront the US command in Iraq with the entirely new prospect of organized military resistance for the first time since the 2003 invasion. American commanders will have to revise their war tactics accordingly. Instead of using small, mobile, flexible units, they will have to adopt classic war tactics, deploying armored columns and big infantry units with massive air cover to capture or re-capture territory.
2. Al Qaeda, too, according to intelligence updates, has set itself the goal of influencing the American presidential election by intensifying its attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as the November 4 voting day nears.
3. The Sunni Awakening Councils have several bones to pick with US military and diplomatic leaders in Iraq. The members of these watch groups are afraid of being left high and dry without a political future for them and Iraq’s Sunni Arabs as a whole after the phased withdrawal of American forces from the country. They are demanding guarantees.
Gen. Petraeus is convinced that when all these realities are factored into the Iraq equation – plus the Iranian penetration, the reduction of even the first five American brigades planned for July might be foolhardy. Some might have to be brought back before year’s end.
The generals of the Joint Chiefs argue back that US troops could be trapped in Iraq indefinitely if all the potential paroxysms to which Iraq is prey are taken aboard as Washington’s responsibility.
Their view was supported by US defense secretary Robert Gates who last week pledged to a Senate panel not to incorporate a pledge to defend Iraq in a future accord on US-Iraq relations.
“The status-of-forces agreement that is being discussed will not contain a commitment to defend Iraq…” he said.
He was responding to worries by Democrats in Congress that the Bush administration would use the accord to lock in a long-term US military presence for next president to inherit.
Gates visit to Baghdad, debkafile reports, evidently gave him a different perspective.
While he was there, a car bomb killed 33 people in a market in Balad and a suicide bomber killed another four people manning an Awakening Council checkpoint in Diyala northeast of Baghdad.
And that Council’s willingness to work with the US showed cracks. They have suspended patrols in protest at the failure of the local chief of police to apologize and arrest the men, described as Shiite members of Iraqi security forces, accused of kidnapping and killing two girls. Their bodies were found stripped naked.