Ricks of 'Wash Post' Reveals Plans for Long-Term U.S. Force in Iraq

By: E&P Staff Thomas Ricks, military reporter for The Washington Post and author of the book "Fiasco," reveals in a front-page story today that military commanders have outlined for him long-range plans for the U.S. to stay in Iraq with a force of 40,000 personnel even after a "withdrawal" is finished.

"Such a long-term presence would have four major components," Ricks writes from Baghdad. "The centerpiece would be a reinforced mechanized infantry division of around 20,000 soldiers assigned to guarantee the security of the Iraqi government and to assist Iraqi forces or their U.S. advisers if they get into fights they can't handle.

"Second, a training and advisory force of close to 10,000 troops would work with Iraqi military and police units....In addition, officials envision a small but significant Special Operations unit focused on fighting the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. 'I think you'll retain a very robust counterterror capability in this country for a long, long time,' a Pentagon official in Iraq said.

"Finally, the headquarters and logistical elements to command and supply such a force would total more than 10,000 troops, plus some civilian contractors."

Ricks last year disclosed what the military famously called options of "go big, go home, or go long." Now he returns to this theme. A Pentagon planning group's recommendation to "go long" appears to carry weight in Baghdad, "where some of the colonels who led that planning group have been working for Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq since February," he observes.

He concludes: "Even as they focus on the realities in Iraq, officials here are also keeping an eye on Washington politics. Despite the talk in the U.S. capital that Petraeus has only until September to stabilize the situation in Iraq, some officers here are quietly suggesting that they really may have until Jan. 20, 2009 -- when President Bush leaves office -- to put the smaller, revised force in place. They doubt that Bush will pull the plug on the war or that Congress will ultimately force his hand.

"Such timing matters because, despite some tactical success in making some Baghdad neighborhoods safer, officials here believe the real test of the U.S. troop increase will be its ability to create space over time for political accommodation among rival Iraqi factions. Officers agree that hasn't happened yet -- at least not significantly enough to make a difference in Washington."


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