For US troops, new duties, more danger
A new offensive in Baghdad will require house-to-house warfare – the most perilous kind.
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"Like the proposal to use US forces to hold neighborhoods in Baghdad, embedding signals a sliding backward into greater US involvement rather than progress toward a self-sustaining Iraqi security system," says military analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think tank.Skip to next paragraph
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While many military experts see the possibility of some successes, the greater challenges of counterinsurgency remain.
"If the tactics implementing this strategy are directed toward chasing and killing insurgents, which in turn require information from the population, the addition of 17,500 US troops will help," says retired Army Col. Dan Smith, referring to the five additional combat brigades going to Baghdad as part of the overall 21,500 troops that are Bush's total surge effort.
"But to gain the confidence of the Iraqi people, to convince them that the insurgents will not retaliate, requires developing a degree of trust that simply doesn't exist," says Colonel Smith, a military analyst with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington.
Others note that even with the additional troops, the ratio of well-trained and reliable soldiers to Baghdad's population of 6 million is less than war planners say is needed to quell sectarian violence.
"He is adding just enough forces and publicizing it to make the Iraqi resistance rise to the challenge," says national security analyst Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute think tank. "He will also increase US casualties by embedding the troops with the Iraqis. US forces will no longer go back to their fortified bases at night. A previous increase in the forces ... led to increased resistance."
The president's new strategy for Iraq has a broader context – militarily and diplomatically.
One retired senior military officer looks at more forces going to the region, including Patriot missile batteries and equipment to counter antiship mines (neither of which would be useful against Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias in Iraq) and concludes that the Bush administration may have a broader agenda.
"The subtext of the speech tells me this is about Iran," says retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner.
Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee Thursday, Secretary Gates said he wants to increase the military by 92,000 soldiers and marines over the next five years, bringing the overall total to 202,000 marines and 547,000 Army soldiers.
"We should recognize that while it may take some time for these troops to become available for deployment, it is important that our men and woman in uniform know that additional manpower and resources are on the way," Gates said at a White House news conference.
But recruiting and training fresh troops may not relieve immediate problems, some analysts warn.
"The US military cannot sustain a higher level of commitment in Iraq without undercutting the capability to cope with crises in other places," says Mr. Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "Quick-reaction forces such as the 82nd Airborne Division are being tied down, and the whole force is being worn down. It is now obvious that the nation needs a bigger Army, but because the Bush administration failed to act years ago, there is no hope of generating usable recruits anytime soon."