As we’ve discussed before – and as Chris Bowers is dissecting at Open Left with important posts here and here and Ian Welsh at Agonist is posting here and here– the great lie of the current presidential campaign is that all the Democratic candidates want to “end the war.”
What they are not telling us is that most of them plan to keep large numbers of American troops in Iraq even after they “end the war.” WTF you say?
Clinton, Obama and Edwards’ plans to “end the war” or to “bring our troops home” all refer to “combat troops” but their plans include leaving some number of troops in Iraq for training Iraqi forces or anti-terrorism or force protection (if you remove your force, who are you protecting?) and similar activities. Only Bill Richardson has pledged to remove all troops except for a standard Marine contingent to protect the Embassy. And all the rest have refused to specify the number of troops they envision retaining in Iraq. Chris and I have asked each campaign for these figures numerous times – I began asking this question back during the discussion of the first supplemental. No one is answering.
Since they won’t answer, Chris is now estimating they will keep 40-60,000 troops in Iraq. (and if this is not true, all they need to do is tell us the correct figure for their particular proposal.)
Since we have no pledge from these “frontrunners” to withdraw “support troops” it seems to make sense to have an upper estimate of how many troops might be left. (The idea that leaving a large contingent of “support forces” without “combat forces” when the combined force is losing the occupation now requires a logical leap I can’t even begin to understand.)
How many combat troops are in Iraq and how many support troops are in Iraq? The best measure is to look at reports of the ratio of combat to support which the Pentagon implements.
Reporting from the initial period of the “surge” gives us some idea of that ratio. Bush’s original “surge” plan involved sending 21,500 combat troops to Iraq. What did not get mentioned when that figure was announced was that 21,500 combat troops require 15,000 – 28,000 support troops:
According to the Pentagon’s current ratio of combat-to-support personnel in Iraq, the surge would require up to 28,000 additional troops to provide security, fuel, food, transportation, and other necessities to support the additional combat troops — bringing the total troop increase to 48,000 troops, the CBO concluded. If a smaller proportion were used, as the Pentagon has suggested, the surge would require about 15,000 support personnel, increasing the surge to about 35,000 troops, it said.
In NYT reporting on the Iraq Study Group report, we learn:
Frontline combat troops in the 15 brigades carrying out the American fight in Iraq — which the Iraq Study Group says could be largely withdrawn in just over a year — represent about 23 percent of the 140,000 military personnel committed to the overall war effort there.
On any given day, according to military officers in Baghdad, only about 11 percent of the Army and Marine Corps personnel in Iraq are carrying out purely offensive operations. Even counting others, whose main job is defensive or who perform security missions to stabilize the country for economic reconstruction and political development, only half of the American force might be considered combat troops.
The article goes on to provide more detail:
According to Pentagon statistics, about 23 percent of the troops currently assigned to the Iraq mission conduct primarily combat jobs. The 15 combat brigades — each with an official roster of about 3,500 and totaling about 52,500 soldiers and marines in Iraq — make up well over a third of the overall force. But each brigade includes units that provide support, logistics and security for those troops conducting direct combat operations.
Electricians and mechanics make up 20 percent of the overall American mission, with “functional support/administrative” personnel and “service and supply handlers” each contributing another 11 percent, according to Pentagon personnel statistics.
Other major categories include communications and intelligence troops — 8 percent — and health service providers, including such critical missions as medical evacuation teams, at 4 percent of the force. Craftsmen account for just under 4 percent. Those statistics do not includes their officers.
These statistics were drawn from an unclassified Pentagon report dated Sept. 30, 2006, which listed American deployments in the Middle East to carry out and support what the Pentagon classifies as “The Global War on Terror.” Three senior officers who served yearlong deployments in Iraq at the headquarters level reviewed the Pentagon statistics on regional deployments and said they provide an accurate if somewhat rough picture of how American troops are assigned military tasks in Iraq today.
But that is just one set of statistics describing troop deployments. Those statistics listing official military occupations in the region do not tell the full story of how the force deployed on the ground carries out the mission each day, according to officers in Baghdad.
Lt. Col. Michelle L. Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for the Multinational Corps-Iraq, offered different statistics that show that during day-to-day operations, about 40 percent of the troops conduct combat missions while about 60 percent carry out support missions.
In an MIT paper discussing the number of troops needed to pacify Iraq, Peter Strass OF MIT’s Security Studies Program writes:
When “tooth-to-tail” considerations are included—the number of combat troops to logistical support troops—the number of U.S. combat troops in country drops to about 60,000,
And a year ago, Fred Kaplan wrote in the Atlantic:
For each American soldier capable of going out on patrol or fighting insurgents, there are five support troops supplying his needs, according to an Army spokesman. In other words, of the roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq today, only about 25,000 are combat troops. Categories overlap, of course; a truck driver in a convoy can find himself in a firefight or be hit by a roadside bomb. Still, when the generals plan how many troops they need, this is the combat-to-support—or “tooth-to-tail”—ratio that shapes their calculations.
Note that none of the figures include the estimated 125,000 -200,000 mercenaries used as support and security.
Given these ratios – which put “combat forces” at only 23% to 50% of the total number of troops – precisely how many of these forces do the “frontrunners” plan on leaving in Iraq – and how is leaving 40,000, 60,000, 80,000 “support” troops in Iraq Ending the War? That seems like a question each and every presidential candidate should be required to answer.
US “surge” soldiers from 1-30 Infantry Battalion rest in a temporarily occupied Iraqi home during a foot patrol along the Tigris river south of Baghdad, 03 September 2007. (AFP/David Furst)