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Gap Widens Over Iraq Approach
July 20, 2007; Page A4

Despite growing calls from lawmakers for drastic change in Iraq, senior U.S. military officials on the ground say they believe the current strategy should be maintained into next year -- and already have mapped out additional phases for doing so through January.

  What's Happening: U.S. military officials in Iraq have mapped out plans to maintain the current U.S. strategy into next year, even as lawmakers at home draw up troop-withdrawal scenarios.
  What it Tells Us: The officers' commitment to the current "surge" strategy illustrates divisions between top commanders in Iraq and a growing number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
  Behind the Scenes: Defense officials have begun to study postsurge options but would likely move more slowly than lawmakers would like.

Senior commanders say the coming missions will attempt to prevent Islamic militants from returning to areas cleared by U.S. forces, particularly in the "belts" of land that surround Baghdad. The officers' commitment to the current "surge" strategy -- which has sent 30,000 additional troops to Iraq and resulted in a recent spike in U.S. casualties -- illustrates the divisions that have emerged between top commanders in Iraq and a growing number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who have turned against the war.

Indeed, while the military is planning for new operations well into next year, lawmakers and analysts in Washington, believing the political climate makes a big change almost inevitable, have begun drawing up scenarios for a troop drawdown in coming months.

The Bush administration tried to bridge the gap between the thinking of military planners and members of Congress yesterday by inviting some 200 lawmakers to the Pentagon for an hourlong classified teleconference briefing with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker. Participants said the two men acknowledged the significant political and military challenges in Iraq but pointed to modest signs of progress like the recent decision by Sunni tribal leaders in the restive al Anbar province to ally with U.S. forces against radical Islamist extremists there.

Gen. Petraeus assured the lawmakers he would be able to give them a full assessment of the surge's gains, as well as recommendations for the way ahead in Iraq, when he and Mr. Crocker brief Congress in September.

[nowides] FIGHT FOR IRAQ
[Iraq map]1
See continuing coverage2 of developments in Iraq, including an interactive map3 of day-to-day events in Iraq and a tally of military deaths4.

Senior Iraq commanders, along with President Bush, argue that the buildup is beginning to show indications of success. Mr. Bush, with the support of these officers, is effectively gambling that Congress will be unable or unwilling to force a drawdown and that the military will have a free hand to keep the added troops in place well into next year.

Mr. Bush prevailed in a key Senate showdown this week, as Democrats were unable to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill mandating that a U.S. troop withdrawal begin within 120 days.

But many in the political and think-tank worlds believe Congress may attempt to set a time frame for withdrawal in September, when the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq give formal progress reports. Several outside analysts have recently released detailed proposals for sharply shrinking the U.S. mission and footprint in Iraq.


Current Levels

The U.S. currently has approximately 154,000 troops in Iraq in bases and camps throughout the country. Here are a selection of the major bases in Iraq. Click to enlarge.8

'Phased Transition'

Under a plan developed by the Center for a New American Security10, the U.S. would move many of its remaining troops to bases in Kurdistan, Anbar province, Kuwait and near Baghdad. Click to enlarge.11

'Strategic Reset'

The Center for American Progress13 proposal would close all of the U.S. bases with the exception of a facility that would be based in Kurdistan temporarily. Click to enlarge.14
Source: globalsecurity.org, WSJ.com research

To be sure, some defense officials in the Pentagon and the Middle East also have quietly begun to study postsurge alternatives. Still, any drawdown the Pentagon envisions would move more slowly than impatient lawmakers would like. A recent study by U.S. Central Command logistics experts concluded that a complete withdrawal from Iraq could take as long as two years if conducted in an orderly fashion in which U.S. forces systematically turn over territory and facilities, say military officials in the region. A faster and riskier withdrawal could be done in a year.

The Iraq commanders' desire to extend the surge into next year also is complicating an effort being led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. William Fallon, the top commander in the Middle East, to put the U.S. on a course to a smaller military presence in Iraq that can be sustained for several years and could help garner bipartisan support for a longer-term U.S. presence in Iraq after Mr. Bush leaves office.

Adm. Fallon also has waged a quieter campaign to convince Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt that the U.S. will continue to be a stabilizing force in Iraq for years to come despite the congressional opposition to the Iraq war.

But several senators said the longer the surge continues, the harder it will be for Mr. Gates to find lawmakers willing to support the kind of multiyear American military presence that may be needed to stabilize the fractious country.

"The concern that I have is that by next spring, the American public will be so out of patience that there's not going to be the same tolerance for a longer-term mission that there is now," said Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who co-sponsored the amendment calling for a withdrawal to begin within 120 days.

Depending on how aggressive lawmakers are about trying to construct a timetable for withdrawal, the gap between their wishes and military planners might narrow by the fall. Military officials in the region concede that manpower strains on the Army almost certainly will force the gradual withdrawal of perhaps 30,000 troops by next spring from the current contingent of about 154,000 troops. So if Congress were to pass, and compel Mr. Bush to accept, a timetable that called for a gradual drawdown over a period of many months, the gap between the two views would narrow.

For the moment, though, U.S. commanders there have already mapped out military goals for the rest of the year and into 2008 that rely on the additional forces that are in Iraq as part of the surge. The new missions being planned are designed to ensure that the U.S. can control the major routes that insurgents have used to smuggle equipment for car bombs into the Iraqi capital, commanders say.

But if the administration changes course in Iraq more rapidly than military commanders now envision -- either on its own or after being forced to by Congress -- the U.S. mission and footprint there would look vastly different than it does today.

There are two common elements to the alternative Iraq strategies that are being developed by lawmakers and several Washington think tanks. The first would be a dramatic expansion of the current U.S. effort to train and equip the Iraqi army. The second big change would be a shift of U.S. troops out of front-line combat as part of a significant withdrawal of military personnel from the country.

A recent report by the Center for a New American Security, a new centrist think tank, calls for tripling the number of U.S. military advisers in Iraq to 20,000 while withdrawing 100,000 troops by the end of next year. The report also calls for moving many of the remaining U.S. troops to bases in Baghdad, Kurdistan, the restive Anbar province and Kuwait.

Another report, by the liberal Center for American Progress, goes even further. It calls for a "strategic reset" that would leave 8,000 to 10,000 American troops in Kurdistan to deter a possible Turkish invasion and prevent Iraq's civil war from expanding into the Kurdish areas. All of the remaining U.S. troops would be withdrawn by the end of next year.

Inside the Pentagon and the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East, senior military officials have quietly begun to study their own postsurge alternatives for Iraq. But the commitment to the surge on the part of Mr. Bush and his commanders in Iraq puts them in a difficult box. The military officials worry that if they turn too quickly to laying out a detailed postsurge strategy they could undercut the president and his Iraq commanders, say military officials involved in thinking about the postsurge strategies.

Still, Adm. Fallon, the U.S. Middle East commander, has asked his strategists to study a range of postsurge options -- some of which assume a reduction in violence as a result of the current surge and others that assume deterioration in security and reconciliation efforts, said senior military officials in the region.

In particular, he has asked planners to consider what it would mean to shift U.S. forces to a posture of "strategic overwatch" in which American troops would provide logistical support and training to Iraqi forces and also act as a backstop in case the fledgling Iraqi units were overwhelmed in a particular area or consumed by sectarian agendas, military officials said.

"We have some really big decisions ahead of us," Adm. Fallon said in an interview. "We have to ask ourselves whether the surge is really working and what we do we want to do afterward."

One possible approach would revive planning done by military officials in Baghdad last November on a way to substantially increase the number of American troops living and working with Iraqi forces by breaking up some large conventional combat brigades into dozens of small 30- to 40-soldier training teams. Other brigades would remain in their current form and focus on providing backup to Iraqi forces and fighting Islamic extremists across Iraq.

Gap Widens Over Iraq Approach -  Source

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