September 8, 2008

Did you think it would be any different?

The Associated Press has learned that President Bush plans to keep the number of U.S. troops in Iraq near the current level through the end of the year, then bring home up to 8,000 combat and support troops by mid-January.

In a speech on Tuesday, Bush is expected to announce that he will maintain the current U.S. forces - that's roughly 145,000 troops, including 15 combat brigades and thousands of support forces - through the final full year of his administration.

So while Bush bragged this morning, and much of the mainstream media lapped it up, that returning troop numbers to pre-surge levels constitutes a "withdrawal," the math...and the consequences...don't add up. From The Guardian (UK):

But a reduction of 8,000 troops over the next few months will still leave US troop levels in Iraq at about 140,000, posing a big problem for Bush's successor.

In fact, the pace of the reduction in combat troops is both slower and smaller than had been anticipated. US commanders see little alternative to keeping a big troop presence in Iraq for now because the situation remains fragile, although Baghdad has made it clear it would like all US combat forces to leave by 2011 in current talks on a security pact.

He went on to argue that the US needed to maintain current levels through the Iraqi provincial elections later this year, and that consideration of force reductions makes sense only after those elections and until the incoming commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, has assessed the new situation.

Toby Dodge, an analyst at Queen Mary, University of London, said Bush's decision was a compromise between Petraeus and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

He said: "Petraeus wanted a slower withdrawal because the thinks the gains are reversible, while the other commanders wanted to shift troops to Afghanistan and to save the army from being broken, so Bush compromised between the two camps."

Although the violence has dropped largely because of the surge, Dodge also believes the progress that has been achieved is clearly reversible.

"The Iraqi army is a work in progress and the police is still completely divided along sectarian lines."...

Current US deployments to Afghanistan include 14,000 troops that are part of a Nato force and an additional 19,000 under separate US command. As Bush shuffles American troops around, one thing remains certain: American forces are fully stretched and are likely to remain so well into next year.

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