U.S. Army Stretched Thin in Iraq

Flashback: 2002 War College report predicted it all

According to "The Day After: The Army in a Post-Conflict Iraq," a December 2002 paper produced by the War College's Center for Strategic Leadership, army studies have concluded that even with United Nations support, "a post-conflict Iraq requirement of 65,000 to 80,000" U.S. Army personnel is the low-end manpower requirement for a military occupation expected to last not a matter of months, but "a minimum of five years and possibly as many as ten."

Read on and you have to wonder whether the White House is just ignoring unpleasant possibilities, or reveling in a Roveian-Rumsfeldian cloud-cuckoo-land: While the paper reports that "experts disagree as to the required time frame needed to accomplish the post-conflict strategic requirements, particularly the governance and justice aspects, all agree that it won't be measured in months, but years." Part of the reason, the study explains, is that the past decade of army post-conflict stabilization operations has revealed that transitioning from immediate post-war stabilization to civil society is, for a host of practical reasons, complicated. It's one of the ironies of modern conflict: The war itself may go fast, but securing the peace is what matters, and often nongovernmental organizations and aid agencies don't have the resources to rapidly take up the slack—which means the military has to, even though it doesn't really want to. Realistically, the military will need to facilitate a gradual "measured withdrawal and handover to appropriate UN agencies and entities," and can't just toss the reconstruction ball to civil authorities.

While in one post-war scenario, according to the studies, Iraq's "second-tier technical and professional leaders remain in place and attempt to resume normalcy" and "the general populace passively cooperates as coalition forces attempt to stabilize the situation," the paper nonetheless forecasts the post-Saddam environment for U.S. troops as "very unstable." Key governance and legal functions are likely to be shaky as "police and judiciary are relatively dysfunctional due to the purging of the top leadership and no replacements." U.S. soldiers also find themselves in harm's way as "some Iraqi military units are operating at will and conducting guerrilla attacks throughout the country. Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish tribal leaders are ruling respective areas and are initiating frequent skirmishes in an effort to expand their power base."

Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment patrol an area in Tal Afar, Iraq.
photo: army.mil
Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment patrol an area in Tal Afar, Iraq.

The humanitarian undertaking is likely to be formidable as well—a task, given the dangerous circumstances, that can't be left exclusively to the UN agencies and NGOs. "Post-conflict humanitarian requirements will increase dramatically," the paper predicts. "In many cases, the army will be the only entity capable of providing much needed assistance and the required security aspects of the relief effort."

And, as the paper notes, "if one 'peels the onion' " of tasks that fall under the main headers of several key "post-conflict strategic requirements," the illusion that the army will be a brief, temporary presence evaporates almost immediately. Take security. "Post-conflict Iraq security tasks may include control of belligerents, territorial security, protection of the populace, protection of key individuals, infrastructure and institutions, and reform of all indigenous security institutions," the report notes.

Officials at the War College wouldn't make available the authors of the studies to elaborate. But "The Day After" points out that each of those task subsets begets more subsets. "For example," the paper continues, "the control-of-belligerents task includes: Implement and maintain the ceasefire; enforce the peace agreement, and support disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Territorial security includes border and boundary control, movement, and points of entry. Protection of the populace includes non-combatants, maintaining public order, and clearance of unexploded ordnance. The protection of key individuals, infrastructure, and institutions includes private institutions and individuals, critical infrastructure, military infrastructure, and public institutions. The reform of local security institutions includes national armed forces and non-military security forces."

Army research indicates that just to address the "security" issue, there are "well over 100 essential services that the Army must provide or support." Problem is, the army may not have enough people to fulfill those and other services. Two-thirds of army combat-support functions are not, in fact, elements of the standing army, but the army reserve. "A majority of functions and services being performed by reserve component organizations in support of the Balkans and the GWOT are the same that will be required in a post-conflict Iraq scenario," the report says—further noting that there aren't enough army specialists available right now to meet GWOT requirements alone. The "resultant stress on the army mobilization function" for post-war Iraq does not, the paper suggests, look reassuring.

Yet to the Pentagon's appointed civilian leaders (increasingly the subject of derision by many officers for their combination of grand ambition and lack of military experience), the exigencies of post-war Iraq should be, according to one, "minimal." In a lengthy interview with the Voice last week, a high-ranking Defense Department political official did concede that preparation for Iraq after a war is seriously lacking. "The planning should have started much sooner," the official said. "That's hard to deny." But, the official added by way of spin, that's really nothing to be concerned about, because compared to Afghanistan, Iraq is really much easier to handle, and won't require a protracted military presence, in keeping with Donald Rumsfeld's view that the military should not be a tool for "nation building."

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