Drawing Down Iraq
Drastic troop cuts are in the Pentagon's secret plans.
By Michael Hirsh and John Barry
Aug. 8, 2005 issue - Donald Rumsfeld doesn't like long-term occupations.
He's always made that clear. After U.S. forces took Baghdad, the Defense
secretary had plans to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq to 40,000 troops
by the fall of 2003. Then the insurgency struck.
Now Rumsfeld is quietly moving toward his original goal—three years
late. The Pentagon has developed a detailed plan in recent months to
scale down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to about 80,000 by mid-2006
and down to 40,000 to 60,000 troops by the end of that year, according
to two Pentagon officials involved in the planning who asked not to be
identified because of the sensitive nature of their work. Their account
squares with a British memo leaked in mid-July. "Emerging U.S. plans
assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control
by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall [U.S. and Coalition
forces] from 176,000 down to 66,000," says the Ministry of Defense memo.
Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, hinted at those
numbers last week. Casey told reporters that the United States will be
"still able to take some fairly substantial reductions" if Iraq can keep
to the timeline set out in the U.S.-sponsored interim constitution,
which calls for elections for a permanent Iraqi government by Dec. 15,
2005. After that, U.S. officials believe, the main task of the U.S.
occupation will have been completed.
U.S. officials denied that Casey's remarks represented any change in
policy. But earlier this year the Pentagon had been mum on a withdrawal
timetable, in part so as not to encourage the insurgents. Now the
conditions for U.S. withdrawal no longer include a defeated insurgency,
Pentagon sources say. The new administration mantra is that the
insurgency can be beaten only politically, by the success of Iraq's new
Indeed, Washington is now less concerned about the insurgents than the
unwillingness of Iraq's politicians to make compromises for the sake of
national unity. Pentagon planners want to send a spine-stiffening
message: the Americans won't be there forever. U.S. domestic factors are
also forcing President Bush's hand. The Bush administration wants to
pre-empt growing public pressure for withdrawal, which could give the
insurgents a Vietnam-like strategic goal. Military planners, meanwhile,
are deeply concerned about driving away Army careerists and recruits if
current deployments are forced into 2007. If the U.S. Army has to do
another rotation into Iraq in the fall of 2006 to keep force levels up
to their current 138,000, it "goes off a cliff," says retired Gen. Barry
The question is whether the insurgents will see the U.S. plan as a rush
to the doors. And whether they and Iraqi militias will come to dominate
the country in the vacuum left by U.S. forces, leading to civil war. A
too-rapid withdrawal could even hand a victory to foreign jihadists
streaming into Iraq. "What we have is a plan of action for pulling our
troops out, not a strategy for success," says Andrew Krepinevich, a
Washington strategist. "That's more of a Vietnam solution: 'Peace with
honor'." The phrase proved hollow back then. The Pentagon is betting it
won't this time.
With Joe Cochrane in Baghdad
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2005 MSNBC.com