Friday, December 15, 2006

Iraq: Pace Recommends Finally Taking Reconstruction, Political Side Serious

The Pace study is finished and Bush has been briefed on the top brass recommendations. Crucially, they agree with the Baker-Hamilton report on turning from combat to training -- plus more focus on and effort in reconstruction. Here, from the Washington Post:
The chiefs do not favor adding significant numbers of troops to Iraq, said sources familiar with their thinking, but see strengthening the Iraqi army as pivotal to achieving some degree of stability. They also are pressing for a much greater U.S. effort on economic reconstruction and political reconciliation.

Sources said that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is reviewing a plan to redefine the American military mission there: U.S. troops would be pulled out of Iraqi cities and consolidated at a handful of U.S. bases while day-to-day combat duty would be turned over to the Iraqi army. Casey is still considering whether to request more troops, possibly as part of an expanded training mission to help strengthen the Iraqi army.

The recommendations Casey is reviewing to overhaul the military mission were formulated by Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the outgoing top U.S. ground commander, officials said. The plan positions the U.S. military to be able to move swiftly to a new focus on training, one of the key recommendations from several reviews of U.S. strategy, including from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Under the plan developed by Chiarelli's staff, the military would shift about half of its 15 combat brigades away from battling insurgents and sectarian violence and into training Iraqi security forces as soon as the spring of 2007, military and defense officials said. In northern and western Iraq, U.S. commanders are already moving troops out of combat missions to place them as advisers with lower-level Iraqi army units, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the military in Iraq, said yesterday at a briefing in Baghdad.

Administration officials stressed that Bush, under pressure from Congress and the electorate to abandon the United States' open-ended commitment, has made no final decisions on how to proceed in Iraq. But the new disclosures suggest that military planning is well underway for a major change from an approach that has assigned the bulk of responsibility for security in Iraq to more than 140,000 U.S. troops.

The chiefs also want to see a new push on political and economic issues, especially employment programs, reconstruction and political reconciliation, to help quell the problems that have fueled both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite-Sunni sectarian strife, say defense officials and U.S. military officers in Iraq. A new jobs program is considered key to pulling young men from the burgeoning militias.

Pentagon chiefs think that there is no purely military solution for Iraq and that, without major progress on the political and economic fronts, the U.S. intervention is simply buying time, the sources said. They particularly want to see U.S. pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents, approve constitutional amendments promised to the Sunni minority, pass laws to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue, and modify the ban on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party taking government positions.

Bush alluded to this proposition when he met briefly with reporters after his meeting at the Pentagon. "Our military cannot do this job alone," he said. "Our military needs a political strategy that is effective."

But Bush also showed no sign that he is retreating from his basic proposition that the U.S. military must be engaged in Iraq for some time. "If we lose our nerve, if we're not steadfast in our determination to help the Iraqi government succeed, we will be handing Iraq over to an enemy that would do us harm," he said, adding that he would not be "rushed" into a decision.

This is evidently the right choice: the training mission was announced 2½ years ago, but has not had the substantial weight and smell of strategic-choice-importance until now. Yet, focusing on training properly brings its own problems. Greg Jaffe had fine piece on this in the WSJ recently, "U.S. Commanders Advance Plan To Beef Up Training of Iraqi Army":
Senior U.S. military commanders in Baghdad, eager to shift the fight in Iraq to that country's army, are advancing a plan that could more than double the number of American troops involved in training Iraqi soldiers. The tentative plan, which calls for breaking up some big U.S. combat units into military-training teams, reflects a major shift in U.S. tactics, and meshes with one of the key recommendations of a high-profile report released Wednesday by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The new approach isn't expected to require a marked change in the overall number of American troops in Iraq. But it would increase the number involved in advisory roles to as many as 10,000, from the current 4,000, senior military officials said. (...)

Senior military officials are betting that larger U.S. military training teams that would live and work with Iraqi units could speed the development of an Iraqi army force that has shown some promise, but is still bedeviled by corruption, absenteeism and logistical problems. How quickly the Iraqi army improves could ultimately determine how quickly U.S. troops could withdraw from the country.

However, even the staunchest advocates of building up the Iraqi army warn that the strategy carries significant risks that could derail it. In the near term, commanders say, shifting more U.S. troops into training and advisory jobs could lead to an increase in sectarian violence in Baghdad, because there would be fewer U.S. troops patrolling the streets. Iraqi army units and their U.S. trainers would have to pick up the slack.

The idea of shifting more U.S. troops into training roles has been kicking around in Baghdad and the Pentagon at least since spring. Multiple internal studies by the U.S. Army have concluded that its current training teams in Iraq, typically 10 to 12 U.S. soldiers per an Iraqi battalion, are too small to be effective. (...)

A big concern with the plan is how to protect U.S. soldiers serving on advisory and training teams. These troops would be prime targets for insurgents and sectarian militias seeking to stymie the progress of Iraqi units. They would also be vulnerable if their Iraqi units were overrun by the enemy. Senior U.S. military commanders also warn that without progress on rebuilding Iraq's economy and without a political accommodation between Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis, no military force will be able to impose order in the country. "The military cannot win this alone -- it's flat impossible," said one senior U.S. official.

U.S. training teams now live and focus on advising Iraqi battalion commanders, who each oversees about 500 troops, plus staff. Under the new plan, the expanded teams would spend more time with the lower-ranking commanders and their troops who do most of the day-to-day fighting and patrolling in Baghdad. U.S. commanders say the larger teams would be better able to prevent abuses by the Iraqi units and ensure that they do their jobs properly. "Beefing up the training teams will give us a 24/7 presence in the Iraqi units that we haven't had so far," said a military official. Some officers who have recently served on U.S. military training teams in Iraq praised the effort to focus more troops on the training mission. But they cautioned that this wouldn't fix many of the Iraqi army's biggest problems. Many Iraqi units continue to be hamstrung by ineffective or corrupt commanders who have the support of key officials in Iraq's Ministry of Defense. "Right now we cannot even fire Iraqi army leaders [whom] we know cooperate with insurgents or are incompetent," said Lt. Col. David Coffey, who returned last month from Iraq, where he had served on a 10-man training team.

The supply system often fails to deliver Iraqi troops the fuel, food and bullets they need to carry out their missions. Several advisers said there is also pressure to inflate the capabilities of the Iraqi units in readiness reports. "There is tremendous pressure on the training teams to show steady progress in the abilities of the Iraqi battalions," Col. Coffey said. "This ignores the fact that many units actually get worse as key leaders are killed or go AWOL, as unit equipment degrades, as the enemy situation gets worse, or as combat operations prevent ongoing training."

The U.S. soldiers who make up the military training teams cannot order Iraqi commanders to carry out missions. Instead, their job is to advise, cajole and set a good example for their Iraqi counterparts. The teams help the Iraqi forces plan raids, set training schedules and get necessary supplies. They also act as a conduit to U.S. forces in the area.

Moreover, as Tom Barnett points out, under the heading "One More Thing The Military Is Good For", the Pace recommendations are politically useful for President Bush:
On the Joint Chiefs' recommendation, I don't see much difference from the ISG. In sum, it also says pullback from combat, train up Iraqis and support them, and... Oh yeah... always hunt terrorists. I think we have a consensus, but since the Chiefs won't comment on dialogue with Syria or Iran (foreign policy turf), this way Bush can say he's listening to his generals while he blows off the ISG's call for a regional security/diplomatic initiative. That, my friends, is some military cover.

Hardly part of the Chiefs analysis, but hey, useful nonetheless.

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