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Monday, December 15, 2003

Next class: Military Math 101

When was the last time you went to a link from the Dodge City Globe? Well, I'm taking everyone there because of an August op-ed by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. I'm sure this must have circulated more widely then, but it's the only persistent link I can find today.

And today, in the euphoria generated by Saddam Hussein's capture, we need to remain focused on the big picture.

In any case, O'Hanlon argues that the US is in big trouble in Iraq because of some very basic military math. Put simply, the army doesn't have enough forces to rotate fully into Iraq, let alone take on another foe like Syria or Iran:
The Army's brutish deployment math specifically works like this. Sixteen of its 33 active-duty combat brigades (there are typically three brigades per division) are now in Iraq; another two are in Afghanistan; two more are in Korea; one more is in the Balkans. That leaves only 12 available for other missions, and most of those are now preparing to go to Iraq.
Even international troops really cannot help very much:
Even if the U.N. Security Council passes a new resolution to put the United Nations formally in charge in Iraq, the problem will not be solved. That would help attract troops from other countries, but we would still probably need six to eight NATO brigades in the Sunni triangle of central Iraq in late 2004 and 2005, and most of those would have to come from U.S. active-duty forces.

Other countries that might provide forces under a stronger U.N. mandate, such as India and Russia, are not equipped or trained to handle the extremely difficult conditions in the region. Nor, despite their great capabilities, are the combat formations of the U.S. Army National Guard. France and Germany might be capable of helping -- and willing if the United Nations were put in charge -- but each would do well to muster a brigade.

The Marines can and should be expected to provide a brigade or two of the forces needed under U.N. auspices. But even with increased international and Marine Corps help, the Army would still need to generate two to four fresh brigades for Iraq, and another couple in Korea.
Two weeks ago today, I blogged about the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a group of realist scholars and think tank analysts opposed to the war in Iraq (and to other neo-imperial dimensions of Bush administration foreign policy) for a variety of reasons. Today, I had lunch with one of them who pointed me to O'Hanlon's military math.

His bottom line: if we don't figure out a way to exit Iraq soon, we are not going to be able to prosecute the war on terror very effectively and will continue to suffer casualties in Iraq (as part of the "long, hard slog"). Nationalism and self determination remain powerful ideas for the insurgency, regardless of the fact that Saddam Hussein is in custody.

This all means trouble in Afghanistan and elsewhere (he was also very worried about Pakistan's future, especially after the attempted assassination yesterday) .

What a mess.

Update: A friend who reads this blog sent me a reference to William Langewiesche's "Peace is Hell" article from the Atlantic, October 2001. I haven't had a chance to look it over yet, but he reminds me that a lot of people may have missed it since that issue of the magazine arrived in mailboxes about the time of 9/11. Apparently, it explains why troop rotation is so important.

Update II: This AP story ("Iraq war will leave only two of Army's 10 divisions available") further explains the underlying logic of "military math."
The Army's 4th Infantry, 101st Airborne, 1st Armored and 82nd Airborne division are to leave Iraq by next May. When those troops return, they will need at least six months to rest, resume training and repair helicopters, tanks, Humvees and other gear that has been pushed to or past the breaking point in Iraq's harsh desert environment.

During the retraining, those divisions' formal readiness ratings will fall to the lowest or second-lowest level, first reported this week by The Wall Street Journal.
Some experts say that one year on duty in a place like Iraq necessitates one year off duty, to rest, refit and retrain.

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