U.S. Army Stretched Thin in Iraq

Flashback: 2002 War College report predicted it all

So the U.S. military is stretched to the breaking point by the war in Iraq--surprise!

A report by Andrew Krepinevich, a retired army officer on a Pentagon contract, says the Army has become a "thin green line" about to snap under the weight of lengthy and repeated tours of duty, continued low-level casualties, and poor recruiting. It's possible, Krepinevich says, that the Army can't keep up the level of troops necessary to win the peace in Iraq.

Here is, straight from CNN to you:

"You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue," he said in an interview.

Krepinevich's take on the "thin green line" should come as no news at all to anyone in the military, even to anyone watching the military's adventure in Iraq. As Voice contributor Jason Vest reported back in 2003, U.S. Army strategists have been worried about precisely that scenario for several years.

As Vest wrote in 2002, a December 2002 report called "The Day After: The Army in a Post-Conflict Iraq," produced by the War College's Center for Strategic Leadership noted the following:

"The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious."

The report about winning the peace in Iraq is proving a sadly accurate forecast of what we're seeing now. As Vest wrote:

"One study broaches the subject of suicide attacks against U.S. soldiers. 'The impact of suicide bombing attacks in Israel goes beyond their numbers,' it says, 'and this fact will also capture the imagination of would-be Iraqi terrorists.' "

Now, as the Army again gets a warning that its troops are spread thing, it's worth considering the warnings that came before.


The War After the War
U.S. Army Documents Warn of Occupation Hazards
March 19 - 25, 2003
By Jason Vest

Despite the sanguine way George W. Bush and his chamberlains talk about a post-war Iraq, senior military officers are worried.

According to recent unpublicized U.S. Army War College studies being read with increasing interest by some Pentagon planners, "The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious."

And that's especially true if occupation force soldiers are not retrained to be "something similar to a constabulary force" and imbued with the understanding that "force is often the last resort of the occupation soldier." The War College studies explore in detail a troubling paradox: While all experts agree that stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq would be a protracted endeavor, "the longer a U.S. occupation of Iraq continues," one of the studies notes, "the more danger exists that elements of the Iraqi population will become impatient and take violent measures to hasten the departure of U.S. forces."

One study broaches the subject of suicide attacks against U.S. soldiers. "The impact of suicide bombing attacks in Israel goes beyond their numbers," it says, "and this fact will also capture the imagination of would-be Iraqi terrorists."

Yet Bush and some of his top advisers have consistently preached that laying the foundation for post-blood-and-sand Iraq really won't be that much of a chore. In a recent speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Dubya's tone was upbeat as he rattled off a succinct post-Saddam checklist for the U.S. Army: Deliver medicine to ailing Iraqis, hand out emergency rations, destroy weapons, secure Iraq from those who would "spread chaos" internally, and mind the oil fields—but not for "a day more" than necessary.

Indeed, after the speech, a "senior administration official" told one reporter that a transition from U.S. military to U.S. civilian control over Iraq would take only a few months. Testifying before the House Budget Committee earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz dismissed Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki's suggestion that a U.S. occupation force might run to the hundreds of thousands; in a recent interview with the Voice, a senior Pentagon official dismissed General Shinseki's comments as "bullshit from a Clintonite enamored of using the army for peacekeeping and nation-building and not winning wars."

But at a time when the U.S. Army is a case study in multitasking—fighting the Global War on Terrorism (or GWOT, in Milspeak), keeping watch on the Korean peninsula, peacekeeping in the Balkans, chasing Islamic rebels in the Philippines, saddling up for more action in Colombia, to name but a few chores—a number of military professionals are quietly venting spleen about how disingenuous they believe the Bush administration is being with the public about post-war Iraq.

Some are merely angry at what they see as a gap between optimistic policy pronouncements and the hard realities of a by-the-numbers post-war reconstruction. But perhaps more importantly, others are angry at what they see as the administration's neoconservative ideologues' playing fast and loose with soldiers' lives in an effort to realize a dubious vision for the Middle East. Because what the neocons dream of—either an instantly democratic Iraq that begins a "domino effect" of democratic revolution and renewal across the Middle East, or an Iraq whose defining aspect of democracy is a volatility that destabilizes the Arab world—is at odds with the lessons the army has learned about modern post-conflict stabilization. The situation has the potential to produce a slew of unintended or unforeseen consequences beyond the U.S.'s ability to handle them.

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