The Urge to Surge
The latest bad idea for Iraq.
The hottest briefing in Washington these days is a 56-page PowerPoint slide show titled "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," by Frederick Kagan, military analyst of the American Enterprise Institute. It proposes "surging" 20,000 extra troops to secure Baghdad as a necessary and sufficient first step to securing and rebuilding the whole country.
It's being taken very seriously in White House and congressional quarters. I don't understand why, because it's not really a serious study. Numbers are grabbed out of thin air. Crucial points are asserted, not argued. Assumptions are based on crossed fingers, not evidence or analysis.
The upshot is that Kagan's surge involves more troops than the United States can readily mobilize and fewer troops than it needs for the kind of victory he has in mind.
He proposes a classic "clear and hold" method to secure the capital. Troops sweep into Baghdad's nastier neighborhoods and clear them of insurgents and other bad guys. Some troops stay behind to maintain security, while others move on to clear the next set of neighborhoods; some of those stay behind, while others move on; and so forth. Once Baghdad is stabilized, still more troops will pour into other troubled cities. Meanwhile, security allows reconstruction to proceed.
Kagan is inconsistent on how many troops need to surge in the first place. In an article for the Dec. 4 issue of the Weekly Standard, he calculated a need for 80,000 extra U.S. troops by spring 2007 but concluded, offhandedly, that 50,000 would be adequate. In his briefing, dated Dec. 17, that number is down to 21,000, with no explanation for the difference and, as far as I can tell, no difference in the analysis. Maybe someone told him 50,000 would be completely impossible.
Either way, where are they coming from? It's worth emphasizing that Kagan calculates that at least 150,000 combat troops will be needed to secure Baghdad alone. In all of Iraq, he estimates, the United States has only 70,000 combat troops now. He proposes moving 63,000 of them into Baghdad (leaving the other 7,000—two brigades—in Anbar province). The other 87,000 would be a mix of the "surge" and of Iraqi soldiers.
The surged forces themselves, whether they total 21,000 or 50,000, would come from a change in troop rotation—pushing up the movement of troops coming in and stopping those troops scheduled to go out, i.e., keeping them from leaving Iraq. Besides demoralizing the troops, many of whom are on their third tours of duty, this would also create a logistical nightmare; supplies would be needed for twice as many soldiers; supply lines would have to be denser and more densely protected.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
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