The Brits have interrupted their long-awaited exit from Iraq. Turns out, despite declarations by AEI’s Frederick Kagan that the Iraqi military did a smashing good job against the Mahdi Army last week in Basra, the Brits reportedly did more to assist Maliki’s fragile forces than was previously reported — even helping to extract them from a firefight with militiamen at one point — and now believe an earlier resolution to cut their forces in Iraq by half was spoken too soon.
What this portends for the ongoing debate over withdrawing our own troops in the next year is unclear. The US military is already bringing home brigades in order to achieve the “pre-surge” level of around 130,000 troops by the end of July. However, Gen. David Petraeus has already signaled he will recommend to congress a “pause” in any further U.S troop withdrawals due to continued uncertainties on the ground. Aside from responding gingerly to the Maliki government’s (in) ability to stand on its own in Basra and attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad, our military leaders have also hinted that the Sunni alliances so heralded by Kagan and other surge faithful may be more fragile than they had previously led on. Their comments are catching up with media reports that factions among these 90,000 Sunni fighters, paid $10 a week by the Americans to essentially thwart local al Qaeda influence in provinces, have been showing signs of corruption on one hand, and on the other, the urge to walk off the job. So it is no surprise that military officials may be lowering overall expectations ahead of Petraeus’ expected appearance on the Hill next week.
Unfortunately, any plan to freeze a draw-down of our troops not only flies in the face of public opinion, but it is sure to escalate the current collision course with force strength realities. As top Marine Corps and Army officials testified to congress on Tuesday, the current stress and strain is “unsustainable” putting the all-volunteer military at “a significant risk.”
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that current open-ended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the services vulnerable when it comes to readiness and response.
“When the five-brigade surge went in . . . that took all the stroke out of the shock absorbers for the United States Army,” Cody said. “I’ve never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today.”