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Numbers Games

How many troops are needed for the "surge"?

9:30 AM, Jan 17, 2007 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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CRITICS OF THE PLAN PROPOSED by the American Enterprise Institute's Iraq Planning Group (IPG) have been pointing to supposed discrepancies in the numbers of troops required to secure Baghdad in my writings, the IPG, and the Bush administration's statements.

I noted before the IPG met that it would require a surge of 80,000 additional troops to clear the entire Baghdad capital area, according to traditional counter-insurgency norms and under a variety of other unlikely conditions. I did not advocate such an operation. I noted consistently, again before the IPG met, that I thought it would take about 50,000 additional U.S. troops to clear and hold all of Baghdad, but I also noted that we could clear parts of the city with fewer forces in a rational, phased plan.

I then put together a team of military planning and regional experts in an attempt to determine with more accuracy exactly how many forces would be required. The results were published in our report, Choosing Victory. We came to the conclusion that the best approach would focus on the most critical areas of Baghdad--the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods around the Green Zone on both sides of the river--and that clearing and holding those areas would require a surge of 5 Army Brigade Combat Teams, or about 25,000 troops. We did not attempt to calculate the number of support troops that would be an essential part of such a surge because it was beyond the means of a group as small as ours to do so--such calculations require a large military planning staff with access to much more detailed information about our force deployment than we had available.

Because of the possible confusion surrounding the number of troops in each kind of unit, the IPG focused on the number of brigades and regiments. This remains the best way to consider proposed surges or reductions. Nevertheless, the number of troops on the ground is an important issue and merits consideration. In my estimation, the total surge required in Baghdad would be on the order of 35,000 troops or so--including the additional support forces. The IPG also came to the conclusion that it was important to deploy two additional Marine Regimental Combat Teams to al Anbar province--around 7,000 combat troops; maybe 10,000 with all their support elements. The total additional deployment of forces we proposed would then be around 45,000 soldiers and Marines, split between Anbar and Baghdad. This was the considered evaluation of a group of active duty and retired Army officers and regional experts, and I accepted their conclusions as likely to be more accurate than my earlier estimates. I stand by the proposals of the IPG.

The Bush administration briefings on the numbers involved in their plan are complex. They are briefing a surge of as many as five brigades into Baghdad and one regiment into al Anbar (although they are also indicating that they now intend to send only two brigades immediately into Baghdad, holding the other three in reserve to be deployed as needed). They are saying that five brigades contain around 17,500 troops, and the regiment around 4,000 troops, for a total surge of around 21,500 soldiers and Marines. Critics of our plans point to the discrepancy between the IPG's recommendation of 35,000 combat troops, and the administration's discussion of fewer than 22,000 combat troops. Note that neither the IPG nor the administration is listing the number of additional support troops that would be necessary.

A U.S. ARMY BRIGADE now contains by statute two maneuver battalions (combat forces), one artillery battalion, and a number of other support elements that are a permanent part of its organization. Brigades deploying to Iraq do not need large artillery formations, and so they train their artillery battalions as infantry, creating effectively three maneuver battalions. Brigade sizes range based on the type of unit, but average around 3,500 soldiers each. The administration's figures are based on that estimate.