The Price of Folly: Reinforcements to Iraq
Just 24 hours after the United States commemorated Memorial Day, the American people are being reminded once again of President Bush's folly in going to war in Iraq with too few troops. The American commander in Iraq General George Casey is dispatching up to 3,500 reinforcements from Kuwait to turbulent Anbar province in Iraq.
The troops from the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division are likely headed to Ramadi, where units from the Pennsylvania National Guard and the U.S. Marines are trying to stamp out yet another surge in violence by Al Qaeda elements. As a senior military official put it, "General Casey has been working with the government of Iraq, and he has asked permission to draw forward more forces that will be operating in Anbar."
With good reason. One Sunni sheik cooperating with American forces described the dismal situation on the ground in Ramadi:
"We hope to get rid of al-Qaeda, which is a huge burden on the city. Unfortunately, Zarqawi's fist is stronger than the Americans'. Zarqawi is the one who is in control. He kills anyone who goes in and out of the U.S. base. We have stopped meetings with the Americans, because, frankly speaking, we have lost confidence in the U.S. side, as they can't protect us."
Sheik Bashir Abdul Qadir al-Kubaisi of the Kubaisat tribe concurred regarding the deteriorating security situation there:
"Today, there is no tribal sheik or a citizen who dares to go to the city hall or the U.S. base, because Zarqawi issued a statement ordering his men to kill anyone seen leaving the base or city hall. We are very upset. But being upset is better than mourning the death of a sheik or tribal leader. Zarqawi has imposed himself on us. We started thinking of appeasing Zarqawi and his group, because rejecting them means death."
This latest deployment of reserve troops to Anbar province is part of a sadly familiar pattern for our overstretched military in Iraq. As I wrote last July, undermanned U.S. forces clear out a city or town and withdraw, only to find insurgents seeping back in to take control within days of their departure. Last summer's Operations Spear and Dagger sent American troops to the Syrian border and north of Baghdad to root out insurgent forces in areas the U.S. had, at least on paper, previously pacified.
The American armed forces are paying the price for the decision by President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to fight wars on the cheap. Ignoring the pre-war advice of General Eric Shinseki to deploy an occupying force of "several hundreds of thousands" of troops to Iraq, the Bush administration has condemned our troops to multiple rotations in the combat zone to refight and retake previously conquered towns. (This arrogance of the Bush White House did not begin in Iraq; the New Republic reports that the U.S. turned down a British offer to send 6,000 UK troops to Afghanistan for what could have been the decisive battle against Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora.)
Needless to say, events on the ground call into question the ability of the United States in the near term to draw down its forces in Iraq. Unless and until Iraqi forces prove capable of controlling Baghdad and Anbar province, it will be difficult for U.S. troops to redeploy to bases elsewhere in Iraq and Kuwait. (For an interesting proposal of how that might come to pass, see "Strategic Redeployment 2.0" from the Center for American Progress.)
For more background on the perils of America's overstretched military, see: