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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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In reality, the U.S. Army does not simply deploy brigades into combat, but instead sends Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs). A BCT includes a brigade as described above, but also additional support elements such as engineers, military police, additional logistics elements, and so on, which are necessary to the functioning of the brigade in combat. In a counter-insurgency operation such as Iraq, these additional forces are fully as important to the overall success of the mission as the combat troops. Sizes of BCTs also vary, of course, but they average more like 5,000 soldiers. Since these are the formations that will actually be deployed to Iraq and used there, I have been estimating deployments on this basis: five brigade combat teams include around 25,000 soldiers; one Marine Regimental Combat Team (RCTs are somewhat smaller than Army brigades) includes perhaps 4,000. So the surge being briefed by the Bush administration now is much more likely to be around 29,000 troops than 22,000--in other words, close to the number of combat troops the IPG recommended, and, when necessary support troops are added, close to the overall numbers I had estimated before the IPG met.

It remains to be seen if the Bush administration will adhere to this plan, of course. The notion of deploying the first two brigades while holding the other three in reserve is antithetical to the plan produced by the IPG, and I do not believe it to be sound. Neither am I entirely satisfied with the reduction of Marine RCTs designated for Anbar from two to one. Other elements of the administration's plan are also significantly at variance with the proposal of the IPG, especially the administration's emphasis on putting Iraqis in the lead at all levels, including the tactical and sub-tactical level. But the new commander, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, has not yet taken up command, and it would be best to await his plan before commenting in detail on proposals that may or may not take concrete form.

Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of Finding the Target: The Transformation of the American Military (Encounter).