A report from the bipartisan US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on the costs of the Iraq war released on February 1 revealed that US President George Bush's plan, announced on January 10, to deploy an additional 21,500 US troops to Iraq this year could result in up to an extra 48,000 troops being deployed.
The report noted that the "DoD [Department of Defence] has only identified combat units for deployment. However, US military operations also require substantial support forces, including personnel to staff headquarters, serve as military police, and provide communications, contracting, engineering, intelligence, medical, and other services. Over the past few years, DoD's practice has been to deploy a total of about 9500 per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4000 combat troops and about 5500 supporting troops ...
"That approach would require about 28,000 support troops in addition to the 20,000 combat troops — a total of 48,000."
The CBO report also pointed out that the 21,500 combat troop increase would be accomplished primarily by extending the deployments of some US troops already in Iraq, while others will be sent sooner than expected. According to Pentagon officials, no combat troops who weren't already scheduled to go to Iraq this year will be sent.
Releasing the report, CBO chairperson John Spratt said that an "average of 170,000 military personnel has been maintained in the Iraq theatre of operations, and this high deployment level has taken a toll", noting that last year, the Pentagon cut troops' time at home between deployments from two years to one so it could have enough soldiers to deploy to Iraq.
The "Iraq theatre of operations" includes not only Iraq itself, but US support bases in neighbouring countries.
In an analysis piece for United Press International, distributed on February 2, David Isenberg, a research analyst at the Washington-based, corporate-backed, Independent Institute, pointed out that the Bush plan "is to increase [US] troop levels [in Iraq] to roughly 150,000".
Isenberg explained, "For a professional volunteer military force to be able to retain soldiers over time, the rule of thumb for active duty units is a three to one rotation ratio, meaning three units are needed to keep one unit fielded. So keeping 150,000 troops in Iraq requires an additional 300,000 for rotation or a total of 450,000 soldiers. This number is precariously close to the total size of the active duty Army, about 500,000 troops. Moreover, the US Army has another 64,000 troops deployed elsewhere overseas that requires a total of 192,000 troops to sustain it. So when you do the math, the Army is about 142,000 soldiers shy of being able to keep up the current deployments."
In an attempt to overcome this short-fall, the Pentagon has contracted out to private companies a range of activities — including providing security, interrogating prisoners, cooking meals, fixing equipment and constructing bases — that were once carried out by soldiers.
Last June, Congress's Government Accountability Office estimated that there were 48,000 mercenaries — "private security contractors" — working for the Pentagon in Iraq.
The December 5 Washington Post reported that there "are about 100,000 [US] government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the US military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.
"The survey finding, which includes Americans, Iraqis and third-party nationals hired by companies operating under US government contracts, is significantly higher and wider in scope than the Pentagon's only previous estimate, which said there were 25,000 security contractors in the country."
During an appearance before the US Senate armed services committee last month, US Army General David Petraeus, the new top US commander in Iraq, said he counts the "thousands of contract security forces" as among the "assets" available to him to wage war against the Iraqi insurgency.
Bush's Baghdad "security plan" calls for an extra 7000 US combat troops to rapidly join the 15,000 US combat troops already deployed in and around the city. An additional 10,500 US combat troops are to be deployed to Baghdad over the next few months.
Under the plan, US troops — accompanied by 8000 extra puppet Iraqi Army troops (mostly Kurds from northern Iraq) and about 20,000 Iraqi police and police commandos (notorious for carrying out death-squad killings) — are to sweep through Baghdad's neighbourhoods, confiscating "illegal weapons" and setting up 40-60 fortified outposts throughout the city.
On paper, there are 22,000 Iraqi Army troops stationed in and around Baghdad. Associated Press report on February 2 that the "additional 8000 scheduled to arrive from elsewhere would put the total Iraqi forces at about 50,000. But the overall Iraq troop count is an extrapolation from the number of battalions deployed or on the way. Experience has shown far fewer troops show up ...
"An Iraqi Army brigade from Irbil, about 3500 men in principle, will have at most 1500 men when it finally arrives in Baghdad. The commander says 95 percent of the men don't speak Arabic. A brigade from Sulaimaniyah, also in the Kurdish north, has reached the Muthana Airport in central Baghdad, but it is only 1000-men strong, not the expected 3000."
Under Bush's "new" war plan, an extra 4000 US marines are to be sent to Iraq's western Anbar province, presently occupied by 30,000 US Army soldiers and marines. While only 6% of Iraq's 26 million people live in Anbar, the overwhelmingly Sunni-inhabited province accounted for 44% of all US combat deaths last year.
Most of these deaths occurred in Ramadi, Anbar's capital city. The Bush "security plan" for Baghdad is modelled on the "clear and hold" strategy that the US military has implemented in Ramadi over the last six months.
AP reported that fierce fighting erupted on February 1 in Ramadi "when insurgents opened fire on the Americans from several positions in the city". It added: "Sunni insurgents remain well-entrenched in the city and continue to move freely through parts of downtown Ramadi where Americans often dare not set foot."
GIs dismiss Bush plan
In an article filed from Baghdad on February 3, US McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Tom Lasseter reported that "[w]hile senior military officials and the Bush administration say the president's decision to send more American troops to pacify Baghdad will succeed, many of the soldiers who're already there say it's a lost cause".
"What is victory supposed to look like? Every time we turn around and go in a new area there's somebody new waiting to kill us", US Army Sergeant Herbert Gill told Lasseter.
"Soldiers such as Hardy", Lasseter added, "must contend not only with an escalating civil war between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Muslims, but also with insurgents on both sides who target US forces".
Most of the violence in Iraq is in fact directed against the US occupation forces and their puppet Iraqi security forces.
According to the Pentagon's last quarterly report to the US Congress (made public on December 18), of the average of 959 attacks per week in Iraq from August to November, 68% were directed against US and other foreign occupation forces.
Lasseter reported that "almost every [US] foot soldier interviewed during a week of patrols on the streets and alleys of east Baghdad said that Bush's plan would halt the bloodshed only temporarily. The soldiers cited a variety of reasons, including incompetence or corruption among Iraqi troops, the complexities of Iraq's sectarian violence and the lack of Iraqi public support, a cornerstone of counterinsurgency warfare."
This last reason was graphically revealed by a September 1-4 survey conducted by the University of Maryland's Program for International Policy Attitudes. It found that 61% of Iraqis approved of attacks on the US occupation forces.
The February 5 Washington Post also reported scepticism about the Bush "security plan" from GIs who have conducted repeated raids on Iraqis' homes in the mixed Shiite-Sunni neighbourhoods of eastern Baghdad.
"We should have pulled out a long time ago", Sergeant Michael Hiller told Lasseter. Another GI, on his second tour in Iraq, said: "Whatever new plans they come up with [in Washington], it won't work out here. It's getting worse and worse. I was here last time, in the beginning. Now it's totally changed. They don't even respect us anymore. They spit at us, they throw rocks at us."
US Army medic Daniel Gomez told the Post that those fighting the US forces in Iraq were "like the Viet Cong — they can wait it out. We're not going to be here forever, and they know that. And when we're gone, it's all theirs."