Now that Democrats have stripped their troop-withdrawal timetable from the war funding bill, it's clear that American forces will remain in Iraq through 2008. It also seems likely that they will stay much, much longer. The leading presidential candidates in both parties recognize the dangers of a rapid pullout, and achieving stability in Iraq is going to take a decade. (In this piece, Phillip Carter argues that the United States can withdraw quickly, and explains how to do it.)
How can U.S. soldiers stay in Iraq and accomplish what needs to be done? Our best hope is the Adviser Model. With the surge still under way, Gen. David Petraeus obviously cannot discuss a Plan B. But given U.S. public opinion, a Plan B for 2008 and beyond is a certainty. Its central feature is likely to be the buildup of a combat-advisory corps as our combat units are drawn down.
Americans need to understand who those advisers are, what they will do, and how many we will need. There is little to indicate that most citizens, or even politicians, are well-educated on the subject. A recent proposal from House Democrats, for example, distinguished between advisers, whom they allowed to remain in Iraq, and the "combat troops" they sought to withdraw. This indicates a gap of understanding that must be bridged before any such transition can occur.
Advisers have been a U.S. military staple for 70 years. American advisers augmented allied forces in World War II and Korea but were most prominent in Vietnam. While initially prohibited from direct combat, advisers in Vietnam became increasingly combat-oriented as our involvement increased. The first infantry advisers were special-forces soldiers designed for the domino theory and trained to aid "indigs." By the time Nixon's Vietnamization policy was announced in 1969, there were almost 12,000 military advisers in Vietnam, mostly officers and senior NCOs from traditional ranks. When the conventional forces withdrew, the advisers were the remaining link to American firepower, bolstering the defense—and morale—of the South Vietnamese army until they, too, were pulled out.
The military has a mission statement for advisers that is too broad to be informative. Advisers "advise, coach, teach and mentor." Today, every Iraqi army and police unit has between 10 and 25 advisers, called "transition teams," living with them. While some advisers perform as drill instructors for recruits and others work with Iraqi staffs behind barriers of American concrete, the majority do their job by setting the example outside the wire in combat. Many battalion advisers accompany Iraqi patrols twice a day, setting a much higher operational tempo than most American units.
This aggressive willingness to share risk makes the Advisory Model viable. The heart of the relationship between the American adviser and his Iraqi counterpart is a quid pro quo: The transition team leader brings logistics and a lifeline to American forces and firepower. In return, the Iraqi commander listens to advice about basic tactics and planning. It is the adviser's performance under stress and willingness to share risk side by side with Iraqi troops that yields the true leverage: the ability to influence operations.
Danger is part of the job. It would be misleading to assume that the number of American casualties will drop precipitously if most combat units are withdrawn and advisers stay. The improvised explosive devices that account for more than 65 percent of U.S. casualties will still lurk in waiting every time a mounted patrol leaves the wire. This is especially true as the advisers persist with the current counterinsurgency emphasis of living in the neighborhoods instead of on large bases.
The Advisory Model represents America's best chance to influence the fight for Iraq while pulling our troops out, but to do it the military must make three changes.