By Ann Scott Tyson and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 6, 2006 5:42 PM
The Iraq Study Group report proposes a fundamental shift in the U.S. military mission in Iraq over the next year, substantially expanding the American effort to train fledgling Iraqi security forces while pulling U.S. troops back from combat and patrols.
The 96-page bipartisan report calls for urgently increasing the number of U.S. trainers embedded with Iraqi units, from the current 3,000 to as many as 20,000, while steadily reducing the number of American combat brigades through early 2008. Only those required for force protection would be retained.
The report's bold recommendations leave key questions unanswered, however. The specific timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat brigades would be left to U.S. commanders and could be aborted if there are "unexpected developments in the security situation," the report said. Other questions include where the U.S. trainers will come from, and how many U.S. troops would be needed to provide protection for the forces that remain. Such a strategy would create risks - especially for trainers embedded with Iraqi units, the authors acknowledge, but so does leaving U.S. forces "tied down in Iraq indefinitely."
Three key arguments underlie the report's call for a drawdown in the current contingent of 141,000 troops in Iraq: The existence of other pressing U.S. military requirements around the globe, stress on American ground forces and the assertion that the U.S. military is in a stalemate in Iraq.
"The American military has little reserve force to call on if it needs ground forces to respond to other crises around the world," it states. The report calls repeatedly for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan when they become available from Iraq, citing a request by Marine Gen. James Jones, the NATO commander. Meanwhile, it advocates maintaining a robust U.S. military presence in Kuwait, Qatar and other parts of the Middle East as a deterrence to Iran and Syria.
U.S. ground forces whose manpower and gear have been depleted by the Iraq war are in urgent need of rebuilding, which could take five years, the report states. So far, the war has seen more than 2,900 U.S. troops killed and more than 21,000 wounded, and has cost $400 billion, including tens of billions in lost or damaged equipment. Constant rotations have lowered readiness levels, with less than a third of the Army now reporting high readiness, it says. The rotations have left limited time for training and education and placed inordinate stress on active-duty troops and their families, which could lead to more reserve call ups, according to the report. "The Army is now considering breaking its compact with the National Guard and reserves that limits the number of years that these citizen soldiers can be deployed," it says.
Another reason for a withdrawal, the report asserts, is that the U.S. military can only moderate violence in Iraq, but not fundamentally improve security without political progress there. "U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end," the report says in describing "disheartening" efforts to quell violence in Baghdad, the top priority of U.S. commanders in Iraq.
Indeed, the report finds that violence in Iraq is "increasing in scope, complexity, and lethality," with sectarian strife the greatest cause of instability. Since January 2006, strikes on Iraqi security forces have doubled, while attacks on civilians quadrupled, leaving 3,000 Iraqi civilians dead each month.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces are unable or unwilling to prevent the violence, or are even complicit in it, the report finds. "The Iraqi Army is making fitful progress," it says. Half of the ten planned divisions were recruited locally, and some have refused to carry out missions in other parts of Iraq. They lack solid leadership at higher levels, as well equipment and necessary support in logistics, intelligence, medical evacuation, air cover and transportation, and many units have low readiness ratings of 50 percent or less, it says.
The police forces are in worse shape, it states. "Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence," it says, citing ample reports that Iraqis take part in police training only to gain weapons, uniforms and ammunition for sectarian attacks. Moreover, some fixed site protection forces are nothing more than Mahdi Army militia, it says.
In an effort to increase and bolster Iraqi Army and police units, the report calls for completing all Iraqi unit training and equipping by the first three months of 2008. At the same time, it advocates a major expansion of the number of U.S. military personnel embedded with Iraqi units, from the current 3,000 to as many as 20,000. Those trainers would be placed with Iraqi units down to the level of 100-man companies, and would provide "combat assistance" and "on-the-job" training advice - involving significant risks.
A short-term surge in U.S. troops might be required to add the advisers, as well as to help stabilize Baghdad, the report says, but it maintains that the United States does "not have the troops or equipment to make a substantial, sustained increase in our troop presence."
With the transition underway at in the Pentagon leadership, the report also recommends steps to heal a rift between civilian and military officials that emerged under departing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who announced his resignation Nov. 8.
The incoming defense secretary, former CIA chief Robert Gates -- who was confirmed today by the Senate -- should create an environment "in which the senior military feel free to offer independent advice, not only to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon but also to the president and National Security Council," it says.
Turning to U.S intelligence in Iraq, the study group report praises the gathering of tactical intelligence but is critical of the failure to "understand very well the insurgency in Iraq or the role of militias." Part of that is attributed to not having personnel with needed language skills, such as Arabic, and familiarity with the Iraqi cultures.
The report notes that the panel was told that fewer than 10 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysts have more than two years' experience in analyzing insurgencies, and that the rotation system of the military prevents development of experts.
The report also says the intelligence community's knowledge of the various militias, their leadership, financing and relationship to the government "falls far short of what policymakers need to know." Earlier in the study it points out that the Mehdi Army, the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, may be getting its support indirectly since some of its members are paid as guards in the Facilities Protection Service on duty at the three Iraq ministries controlled by al-Sadr.
Another issue raised is why, since $2 billion has been appropriated this year to protect forces in Iraq, more is not being done to try "to understand the people who fabricate, plant and explode" roadside bombs, which are major killers of U.S. troops.
The group recommends that the director of national intelligence (DNI) and the secretary of defense should put greater resources and analysts into understanding the threats and sources of sectarian violence in Iraq.
Another area mentioned is the underreporting in statistical databases of the violence in Iraq, particularly when no U.S. personnel are involved. "A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. doesn't count," according to the report. It cites a day in July 2006 when there were 93 attacks reported, yet a careful review showed that 1,100 acts of violence took place that day.
The report calls on the DNI and DIA to change the collection of data "to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground."
The CIA is also directed to increase its personnel for training Iraqis and given the task of establishing in Iraq a counterterrorism intelligence center that would coordinate all information and "facilitate intelligence-led police and military actions" against terrorist networks. Earlier in the report it is noted that al Qaeda in Iraq "is largely Iraqi-run and composed of Sunni Arabs," a goal of its first leader, the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was Jordanian-born.