US to begin drawdown in Iraq
In coming weeks, 18,000 troops in northern Iraq will be replaced with a force half that size.
It's been dubbed the "Mosul model" - where US soldiers have been in the vanguard of everything from setting up local governing councils to running a "Star Search" program on local TV.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The 101st Airborne Division's approach to waging peace in this northern Iraqi city is frequently lauded as the ideal of what men and women trained for war can accomplish by setting their guns aside and targeting development and local ties.
But now it faces a crucial test: doing the same mission with half as many US troops.
In just a few weeks, 18,000 soldiers of the 101st in northern Iraq will start streaming home, part of a rotation of all 120,000 US forces in Iraq. Replacing the 101st will be a much smaller force: The Army's new Stryker Brigade, a force of 5,000 or so soldiers whose unit is built around the capabilities of the Army's latest high-tech combat vehicle, and units that will bring the total to 9,000, say officers in the 101st.
The US hopes to reduce its presence in Iraq to about 50,000 by the end of 2005, coalition officials say. The biggest short-term reduction, it appears, will be in the north.
Stryker will be joined by other elements from the Army and perhaps coalition allies, but Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, the 101st's commander, says there will be an "appreciable reduction in forces" in his area of operation. He thinks Stryker can handle the challenge.
"They will have the benefit of a substantially larger Iraqi security presence coming on line,'' says General Petraeus, whose unit has trained more than 10,000 Iraqi soldiers, border guards, and police. "This is an occasion where we'll see how the new Iraqi security forces are going to do. I think they'll be fine."
Petraeus has been slowly pulling his forces back since September, seeking to hand over more and more authority to a local governor and council selected shortly after the 101st arrived in the Mosul area last April. "We're only six months away from June and handing control of the country back over to Iraqis," he says.
"The number of joint patrols we run on the border with Syria, for instance, has been steadily decreasing as the capabilities of local forces have increased,'' says Maj. Mike Getchell, who serves in the 101st's Third Brigade under Col. Mike Linnington, outside the city of Talafar.
Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, has been the most stable and prosperous of any of the regions under US military control. Long gas lines are nonexistent, and entrepreneurs are starting new businesses.
But while Mosul has been more peaceful than the Sunni Triangle, and insurgent attacks have dropped sharply from a high in November, a war is still being fought. Riots over jobs and food swept two southern cities in the past week, with British soldiers and Iraqi police shooting six protesters in Basra. On Jan. 8, an Army medivac helicopter was shot down, killing all eight aboard, and an Apache attack helicopter was shot down Jan. 12, without casualties.
Commanders in Mosul say they're confident their replacements will do a good job.
"I think we're all very comfortable with the new guys coming in,'' says Colonel Linnington. "The Stryker Brigade has the latest and greatest in Army technology. Their vehicles can reach out and see 30 to 40 kilometers away. They've got many unmanned aerial vehicles, so rather than relying only on patrols, they can sit in [offices] and maneuver a joystick and see where their forces are needed."