Monday, January 17, 2005

Officers in Iraq are telling colleagues back in the United States that they disagree with the official Pentagon position and think they need more troops on the ground.

Retired and active-duty personnel who have received such e-mails say they are not couched as gripes. Rather, the shortfall is explained in terms of, “If we had more soldiers, we could be in two places at once,” said a retired four-star Army general. This source said he has received such unofficial communications from a crosssection of commanders in the Army.

“Senior army officers in Iraq have told me we need more troops to do this mission,” said the retired general, who asked not to be named because he does business with the Pentagon. “They are not bemoaning. Not griping. It’s just what they feel they need.”

He said the most-often repeated figure is six to eight more brigades, or more than 50,000 more troops.

An Army official at the Pentagon said he has heard similar complaints.

But the U.S. command in Baghdad says the numbers are satisfactory.

“We have sufficient Iraqi and coalition forces to establish a secure environment that will permit free and fair elections,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy chief of staff for strategic communications in Iraq.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a military analyst and author, said the Pentagon’s policy is the best way to win.

“We don’t need more U.S. troops. We need more Iraqi troops,” Gen. McInerney said. “American forces won’t win this conflict. The Iraqis will. You always defeat an insurgency with indigenous forces, not foreign forces. We can shape it. But in the final analysis, they — the Iraqis themselves — are going to defeat it.”

The U.S. goal is for a nationwide security force of 273,000 Iraqis. About 122,000 are now in the field.

Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the region, has not requested a sizable increase in strength. The Bush administration has settled on a total American force of 150,000 troops in Iraq for the Jan. 30 elections, an increase of 12,000. The hope is that the election of a constructional assembly, coupled with advances in fielding Iraqi security forces, will allow Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to authorize a drawdown in late 2005.

A senior defense official, who asked not to be named, said the topic of troop numbers in Iraq has been debated periodically in the Pentagon’s “tank,” the secure meeting place of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The official said much of the discussion has centered on “what if Abizaid requests more troops. How do we provide them?” This official said he knows of no service chief advocating more forces than Gen. Abizaid has requested.

The official said the most frequently broached rationale for not sending sizable reinforcements is that it would create an array of new targets around the country for insurgents to go after. It also would require billions of dollars more in funds to set up new camps and international supply lines.

A senior military officer in Baghdad, who asked not to be identified, answered “certainly” when asked if U.S. forces are stretched thin in Iraq. But even with a large influx of new forces, this officer said, there would still be non-patrolled sections in the California-size country.

“We can’t stop or negate all terrorist acts,” the source said. But there are enough forces to “deter or stop terrorists who are trying to prevent the election from taking place. … Certainly, we don’t need equal presence all over the country.”

The crisis in Mosul is the most cited example of stretched troops. While Marines and Army soldiers subdued Fallujah in November in house-to-house fighting, insurgents struck miles away in northern Iraq. Terrorists routed Mosul’s police force. The U.S. command had to quickly dispatch reinforcements to take back police stations and rout out the enemy.

Since then, the U.S. has increased by 7,000 the number of American and Iraqi forces in the area as it rebuilds the police force.

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel and author of four books on national security, said the 500,000-troop active force simply is not enough to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to deter aggression in Europe and South Korea.

“I would start adding forces until it is demonstratively too much,” Mr. Allard said. “God forbid, what happens if somewhere something else goes wrong. … We are eating seed corn. In an 18-division requirement, we have a 10-division force.”

The Army boasted 18 active divisions during the Cold War.

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