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February 09, 2007

Iraq: War, Occupation... or Hostage Crisis?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Most of us want to get US troops out of Iraq. Leave aside for now the numerous variants of withdrawal/ drawdown/ redeployment: bottom line for most progressives-- and most Americans-- that we want all or most US troops out, sooner rather than later.

But: can we actually get them out without US deaths on a so-far unseen scale? Or are our troops trapped there, for all intents and purposes?

Logistically, tactically, how do we actually get all or most of our 140,000+ troops out safely? Do they go out by land, via Kuwait or Turkey? Are the departing convoys vulnerable to IEDs or attacks? Do we fly them out? How? From where? I know we bring hundreds of troops in and out of Iraq every day, in relative safety, but when there is a massive increase in numbers, are troops on the move either too concentrated for safety, or too spread out for safety?

Or maybe it's no big deal to get the first 130,000 or so out.... but what about the last few thousand troops? How do they get out? And what about the civilians at our vast Baghdad embassy? Do they all stay? Most? Protected by whom?

Maybe this is not as much of an issue as I worry it might be. Maybe the main organized insurgent and militia players have no particular incentive to go after departing Americans once we make it clear we're really leaving. But maybe their desire to get us out quickly is overcome by their desire to teach us a final lesson.

I'd like to think that someone, somewhere, in the bowels of the Pentagon or the Green Zone, is sitting down with maps and plans and back-up plans, figuring out just how we safely extract so many people. But I worry that political pressures may make it hard for military planners to focus on this: it would be like admitting defeat, which is not something this Administration will contemplate.

Iraq offers so much bad news and so many possible bad endings... sorry to throw one more out for discussion. But if we're pushing for withdrawal, we need to be thinking about this issue too.


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Yes and no. "We," meaning civilians without extensive military experience, don't necessarily have a lot to contribute to solving this problem. Decisions about political objectives may or may not be another story, but what Ms. Brooks is describing is primarily a massive logistical puzzle. Putting it together would require something like what the military calls a Time-Phased Force Deployment List (TPFDL), a document governing the flow of forces to a foreign battle zone -- and now, from the battle zone to new positions outside it.

Former Defense Sec. Rumsfeld's refusal to deploy forces to Iraq using a TPFDL -- he preferred deploying troops in an ad hoc manner that allowed him regular input into which units were to stage into the region and when -- was the source of many problems during the invasion and afterward. The process of withdrawal could not be done in this way without inviting many kinds of trouble, yet any TPFDL for withdrawal would have to be flexible enough to allow for American units leaving the country to shoot down insurgents attacking them, and avoid putting American units in isolated positions. A withdrawal under fire is historically one of the most difficult military maneuvers even during battles with regular front lines. This withdrawal could, conceivably, be very tricky indeed (depending on the strength of the Iraqi government at the time chosen for withdrawal, it might also be less difficult. But provision should be made for the worst case).

So planning at Centcom and the Pentagon should certainly have begun for withdrawal long before now. We can't assume that it has, not after the experience of the last few years, and I would certainly hope that the promised new oversight of the Pentagon by Congress would feature probing inquiries into the state of withdawal planning.

This is a technical question, one that we have experts to deal with.

Ideally we'd see what the experts report about it, except that there simply aren't any leaks about that topic just now.

But this isn't rocket science. When an army is losing militarily, then it's hard to do a successful retreat just as it's hard to stand and fight -- it takes a very good strategist (and good logistics) to minimise casualties while withdrawing.

When we withdraw before we're losing, it's much easier. Build a temporary supply dump south of the current one. Withdraw to positions around it. Destroy what weapons, munitions etc it isn't worth taking with you, or give them to somebody you trust. 8\ Pretty soon the northernmost guys are in areas defended by somebody else. They can assist in raiding those areas and then move out a little before they do.

The big deal is that you can't be as aggressive about raiding the enemy, because you're going to move out. You don't want to follow the Pirates' Code. (Who gets behind, gets left behind.) But that doesn't apply to us as much as it does to most armies. When we have a small unit surrounded and in trouble, we can call in airstrikes to immobilise the enemy, and land a big enough rescue force to pull them out in good order, and then destroy whatever equipment got left. We can be pretty aggressive about harassing the enemy as we pull out, because it isn't almost-suicide missions for us when it would be for others.

With a whole lot more travel at once, we might get more IEDs etc too. But the people who do that would be kept a lot busier than usual and so it might not be a whole lot more attacks. The relative risk could go down. Plus as a temporary measure we could do things we usually wouldn't. Like, declare key roads US-only roads and bomb or strafe anybody we find near them.

We might not need all that much road traffic, either. To save transport a whole lot of the heavy equipment stays there instead of getting moved back and forth. It might be cheaper and safer to just destroy a lot of that stuff and leave it behind than try to move it overland. Write it off, it's worn out anyway.

How hard would they try to hit us? It doesn't make sense for them to build up large military units and try to attack us with them -- they don't have the training or experience, and we still have our air support. They'd just lose them. And if one side hasn't mostly won, then it doesn't make sense for them to waste their strength attacking us while we're already leaving. It worked that way when the russians were leaving afghanistan -- the CIA kept trying to get the afghans to attack the russians while they pulled out but they wanted to stockpile supplies "for later".

But then there's the matter of revenge. A lot of individual people, tribes etc who want to do revenge killing against us may feel it's their last chance.

It's hard to be sure how things would work. But it makes sense we could pull out in good order if we do it before the helicopters are too worn out, and before we really really need to, and before one entity has won in iraq and feels it can afford to teach us a lesson.

I couldn't read more than a paragraph of the J Thomas silliness.

Currently, we redeploy forces all the time. When a battalion pulls out, it's a RIPTOA event, but a withdrawal wouldn't be that different.

Suffice it to say that the US currently enjoys hegemonic power within Iraq. We can, if we have the troops available, go anywhere, defeat any organized enemy unit, and depart. In fact, this "whack-a-mole" strategy largely has illuminated the entire conflict.

We have all-weather airpower and missile munitiions. We have dominant armor and unchallenged battery and counter-battery abilities. We have strong LOC control.

If the main Iraqi army could not have slowed down our advance in the invasion, why should we expect a much smaller, less cohesive and lightly armed (and hardly united) gaggle of insurgents would stop our withdrawal, should it come to that?

Thus far, I have been to Desert Storm/Shield, Operation Restore Hope and, until my movement into the reserves, two deployments to OIF. I have been involved in numerous withdrawals and projections. Not once has our military power been challenged to the point that we didn't believe we would make it in or out.

SOOI, I'm mostly agreeing with you. You of course didn't notice since you couldn't read it.

If we were pulling out we might have a disadvantage from a whole lot of movement at once, with the concomitant disorganisation. And we might have some logistic concerns. And there's a concern -- less for us than for other armies -- about attacking into areas we're leaving, because of the possibility that small forces could get pinned down and have to be left behind. Not a major concern for us, certainly not like it would be for others.

My conclusion is that we shouldn't have big problems pulling out while we're still in good shape. We could expect more problems than we get in the same time following routine, but not tremendously more.

The longer we wait and the more rundown we get, the bigger the problems withdrawing. If the time ever came that we had trouble staying, then we'd have trouble withdrawing too. Everything gets harder when you're losing militarily.

We are not currently losing militarily. Our problem is that our ability to avoid military defeat does nothing useful for us except to preserve our military. Our occupation of iraq has been entirely futile and shows no sign it will ever achieve anything useful.

How are we going to help the Iraqis who will need to get out?

Wonkie, if we reveal our plans to help the iraqis who need to get out, it shows that we expect to fail and it hurts the war effort.

As to whether there are any secret plans for that, I don't know. Perhaps Katrina is not a good model for whwat to expect.

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I would say It may be awful in Iraq now, but what do we do about this line in the Lasseter story?All the Shiites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they'll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It'll be called the `Day of Death' or something like that," said 1st Lt. Alain Etienne, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "They say, `Wait, and we will be victorious.' That's what they preach. And it will be their victory."

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