U.S. Army report warns against exit timetable

Monday, December 5, 2005

WASHINGTON A U.S. Army study warns against announcing a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The study warns that such an announcement would bolster the Sunni insurgency and increase the prospect of civil war in Iraq. The report by the Army War College which stressed that the document did not necessarily represent the views of the military or Defense Department also dismissed hopes that Iraq would soon be ready to assume major security responsibilities.

"From the moment a timetable is announced, all Iraqis working with the U.S.-led coalition will calculate that U.S. protection is a declining asset, and they correspondingly will have to make a decision about how to safeguard themselves and their property," the report said. "Some may choose to establish links to the insurgents, while others may seek the protection of a militia."

On Wednesday, President George Bush outlined what he termed a U.S. strategy for victory in Iraq. Bush dismissed calls to announce a timetable and pledged that the United States would not surrender Iraq to Al Qaida.

"Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send the signal to our enemies that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends," Bush said. "And setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorist tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder, and invite new attacks on America."

The two authors, Andrew Terrill and Conrad Crane, became prominent in 2003 when they warned of the disbanding of the Saddam Hussein army and predicted the outbreak of the Sunni insurgency. Crane has been director of the Army Military History Institute and Terrill serves as a Middle East specialist at the war college's Strategic Studies Institute.

The report dismissed the prospect of a near-term breakthrough in the U.S. war against the Sunni insurgency. The authors cited the weakness of the Iraqi military and police as well as continued support for Sunni insurgents.

"Infiltration of both military and police forces by pro-insurgent agents is a major problem that threatens the ability of those forces to function effectively," the 67-page report said. "Even elite units have been infiltrated by pro-insurgent forces, while high-ranking officers throughout the security establishment, including generals, have been relieved from their positions or arrested for cooperation with the insurgents."

A U.S. withdrawal strategy must provide Iraq with air power to fight insurgents and protect the nation's borders, the report said. Entitled "Precedents, Variables, and Options in Planning a U.S. Military Disengagement Strategy from Iraq," the report recommended that the United States ensure the supply of fighter-jets as well as attack and transport helicopters to the Iraq Air Force.

"It appears increasingly unlikely that U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces will crush the insurgency prior to the beginning of a phased U.S. and coalition withdrawal," the report said. "Police and military forces with incomplete training will likely crumble in the face of the insurgent challenge, and all the effort to create these forces will be rendered meaningless."

Published in October 2005, the report said the United States could not sustain a significant troop presence in Iraq beyond 2008. The report warned Washington that Iraq would be too unstable for the deployment of any significant U.S. military presence.

"It is particularly important that the United States does not insist on remaining in Iraq to support maximalist goals and then find itself unable to sustain an ongoing presence there," the report said. "To establish vital interest goals, it is probably best to start by considering what end-states in Iraq are clearly unacceptable. The most important of these threats is a large-scale Iraqi ethnic and sectarian civil war."

The report warned against optimism regarding the capabilities of the Iraqi military and police, which now number more than 212,000. Such optimism, stemming from the expected success of parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 15, could lead to a decision for an early U.S. withdrawal.

"One of the most serious threats to U.S. goals in Iraq is the danger of unrealistic optimism about the capabilities and elan of the Iraq security forces, and especially those units that have not actually been tested in combat," the report said. "Such wishful thinking, if acted upon, could cause the Iraqi military to be given too much responsibility and then collapse in the face of enemy opposition which they are not yet prepared to address."

As a result, the report urged U.S. military and intelligence leaders to be "painfully honest" whether and when Iraqi security forces could function independently. The authors recalled the collapse of Iraqi police in such cities as Faluja, Mosul, Najaf and Ramadi in wake of a premature U.S. handover of security to the central government in Baghdad.

"Establishing the point at which Iraq can fend for itself with a declining U.S. troop presence will be a difficult challenge for U.S. intelligence analysts as they seek to remove a sometimes unpopular U.S./coalition presence, while not setting into motion the prospect of Iraqi government collapse, anarchy, and civil war," the report said.

The report raised the prospect of an impending Iraqi collapse in wake of the failure by its security forces. In such a case, the authors recommended that ethnic militias take over the role of regional security and government.

"As a last resort for preventing near-term civil war, the United States may have to swallow the bitter pill of allowing local militias to retain a significant and ongoing role in Iraqi politics if the Iraqi government is interested in pursuing this option and if the Iraqi security forces cannot take full responsibility for the nation's safety," the report said.

"Militias are better than anarchy, although the danger they may serve as the building blocks for civil war should cause them to be used only as a last resort."

Copyright 2005 East West Services, Inc.

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