There is every reason to believe that a reformulated operation, proceeding in phases to clear Baghdad neighborhood by neighborhood, but with sufficient force levels to leave significant American troops behind in the cleared areas, would be much more successful. It is impossible to estimate precisely how many more U.S. troops would be needed in the capital area, or in Iraq, without proposing a detailed military plan. But since the high end of estimates for doing the whole area at once produced the requirement for a surge of 80,000 or so, it is very likely that a surge of 50,000 American troops would be sufficient to stabilize the capital. Subsequent phases of the operation would then move on to stabilizing al Anbar and other restive areas of the country, although we must keep in mind how much the situation in Iraq would be transformed for the better if violence in the capital were brought under control.
This approach is not just a matter of throwing more troops at the problem. It involves a fundamental change in U.S. military strategy in Iraq. The U.S. military has never set itself the goal of establishing and maintaining security. It has always prioritized training Iraqi forces and allowing them to undertake such operations on their own. This strategy might have had some merit when the principal problem in Iraq was the Sunni Arab insurgency (although it was dubious even then). It has little or no merit today, when sectarian violence is the most important challenge. More resources are needed to support a changed strategy, but changing the strategy is essential.
Establishing security in Iraq should be our primary objective, with training Iraqi forces a close second. The U.S. military, partnered with Iraqi army units capable of assisting, needs to clear and hold troubled neighborhoods in order to bring the sectarian conflict under control. At the same time, the coalition must reinvigorate its efforts to reconstruct cleared areas, bringing jobs, food, and water to the Iraqi people along with safety. Only in this context will it be possible to recruit an effective Iraqi police force or more Iraqi soldiers and to develop effective Iraqi institutions of central, regional, and local government. And only in this context will the Iraqi government be able to disarm militias that now derive their primary justification from the ongoing attacks on their communities.
Many who oppose the idea of sending more troops to Iraq have abandoned the argument that more troops wouldn't help and retreated to what they believe is a more defensible position: that there are simply no more troops available to send. This view, supported to some degree by the testimony of CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid, is wrong.
To begin with, the Defense Department has just announced plans to deploy over 50,000 troops to Iraq this spring, including more than 20,000 combat troops, as part of a rotational plan to relieve forces currently in the theater. If, instead of bringing those forces home, we extended their tours, we would immediately have generated a surge of 20,000 combat troops.
In truth, we could send more. As of October 1, there were approximately 81,000 active Army soldiers in Iraq, 21,500 active duty Marines, 15,600 Army National Guard, and a little more than 7,000 Army and Marine Reserves--in all about 125,000 troops (13,000 sailors and airmen and a number of other reserves brought the total up to 139,500). Since then, another 8,000-9,000 soldiers and Marines, mostly active duty, have also been committed to the theater. There are another 24,000 members of all services now in Afghanistan as well.
Looking just at basic numbers, it would seem obvious that there are many more troops to send. The active Army numbers about 500,000 soldiers, the Marines 150,000, and the Army National Guard 346,000. That's a pool of almost one million ground forces to draw from. This kind of argument may seem simplistic, but it is supported by no less a personage than the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, who declared this spring: "We have just over 200,000 U.S. service members in the [Persian] Gulf region right now. We have 2.4 million U.S. service members available to the country--active, Guard, and reserve. So you've got about 2 million U.S. service members who are not currently involved directly in the Gulf region. . . . We have sufficient personnel, weapons, equipment--you name it--to handle any adversary that might come along." Including, presumably, a surge of 50,000 troops into Iraq.