Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Occupied Countries

Yesterday about High Noon President Bush was at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington DC. Before a captive audience of senior colonels, generals, and admirals assigned to the University, Bush spun the impending departure from Iraq of troop contingents from most of the remaining 21 (out of an original 42) countries that still have a presence in Iraq.

(I will not go down the road of comparing the mental torture that some officers at NDU must have experienced listening to Bush with the mental and physical torture endured by U.S. troops and pilots taken prisoner during the Korean War and Vietnam. Korea comes to mind because the media has been asking insistently " Where is North Korea's Kim Jong Il and what is his physical condition? " Vietnam is a topic at least until November 5, the day after the U.S. presidential election.)

The reason for the sudden rush to the Iraq exits is the impending expiration (on December 31) of the UN resolution authorizing the presence of foreign troops, with the consent of the Iraqi government, to assist in bringing security to all parts of Iraq. Bush mentioned that in the past five years, allies had sent 142,000 soldiers to Iraq to help the U.S. and the Iraqis. What he didn’t say was that only 7,330 allied troops remain, and of these more than half – about 4,000, are British. Even the remaining Polish contingent of 900 is expected to leave before the end of the year.

Bush packaged the flight of allies as an event made possible by the defeat of the insurgents and al-Qaeda-in-Iraq by U.S., Iraqi, and allied forces. He coupled this assertion with the announcement that 8,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines would also depart Iraq by February 2009, a plan which had the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One suspects that the Joint Chiefs “approved” of what is really a very small U.S. drawdown because they could not get the president to order a larger pull-out. The opposition to taking more troops out os Iraq undoubtedly came from the field commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, the soon-to-be Commanding General of Central Command and Bush's favorite flag-rank officer, General David Petraeus.

The evidence for that came today at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, told the committee that the U.S. was running out of time in Afghanistan. The link, of course, is that the additional troops necessary to form an “Afghanistan surge” that would stymie and roll back the increased violence attributed to a resurgent Taliban have to come from diverting units currently destined for Iraq. In fact, Bush did announce that a Marine battalion (800-1,000 Marines) scheduled to go into Iraq in November would be diverted to Afghanistan and an Army combat brigade (about 3,500 strong) also will be diverted in January 2009.

One other tidbit revealed by Bush is the level to which U.S and coalition troops in Afghanistan have already been augmented. Two years ago there were fewer than 21,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the other coalition countries had committed another 20,000. Today, coalition military strength in Afghanistan stands at 62,000, half of whom are Americans.

One wonders when Marine and Army units scheduled for duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan will be diverted to – that is, remain at – their home bases.

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