Comments: Beginning of a Bugout?

You'd be surprised how much of our overseas forces are "tokens" (or, as they are sometimes called in the case of our South Korean DMZ force, "speedbumps") whose role is to monitor and to serve as forward observers and do maintenance for the bases and infrastructure necessary should actual trouble erupt and a real fighting force be necessary. We've never kept full scale fighting strength forces on inactive fronts.

I'm not saying that they're handling Iraq properly (I've been saying we should commit more troops to properly safeguard both our own forces and our responsibility to the Iraqis), but it's S.O.P, anyway.

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at November 20, 2005 03:03 PM

I know we keep troops in a lot of places as, let's say, "show of force" forces.

But that has nothing to do with the situation in Iraq where the Administration keeps saying we're staying until "the job" is done.

Posted by Anne at November 21, 2005 09:18 AM

I think you use the terms "token" and "show of force" a little loosely, especially when adding "a real fighting force be necessary." Clearly, the 2ID in Korea (at least when I was there!), considers itself "a real fighting force. "

I understand your point though Jonathan- the US has maintained the need to reinforce the theater if the North invaded (frankly, I've always felt we overestimate the North's ability to conduct a sustained invasion, especially when the last thing the Chinese want is an excuse for the US/South Korea to unify the peninsula and the country has never shown an ability to keep the lights on, let alone conduct a full scale invasion to the south).

That said, US military forces overseas are an integral component of the nation's security strategy. Excluding the 150,000+ troops in OIF/OEF, there are over 100K soldiers engaged in a variety of activities from theater security cooperation, support to public diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, stability and peacekeeping operations. One of the debates with the ongoing "global reposturing - reducing forces in Korea, Germany, etc and returning to CONUS" is the potential loss of the human to human contacts from overseas presence (the dirtbags who do not conduct themselves like professionals notwithstanding).

Withdrawing forces may enable the US to placate those voices who argue the US has overstayed its welcome in some regions. Perhaps the new paradigm of rotational forces in more austere locations aligned closer to areas of instability without all the baggage of US continuous presence is the right strategy. However, my experiences have shown military to miltary and even civilian population contacts are cost effective methods to advance our policies, interests, and values (along with more diplomatic/cultural/educational efforts as well - see "America: Lost in Translation", article by Richard Pells in the 14 Oct edition of Chronicle of Higher Education).

For example:

From September 2003 through March 2005, CJTF-HOA had approximately 1,000 soldiers, many of them in highly specialized units. In addition, it had also renovated 33 schools, eight clinics and five hospitals; dug 11 wells; and conducted nearly 40 medical and veterinary visits. (HOA = Horn of Africa)

About 50 U.S. military are in the country as U.S. European Command’s Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program task force. The task force is training select Georgian military units that will aid coalition forces in Iraq. Also, the task force is helping the Georgian military be more capable of securing their borders against terrorist traffic.

Working and living with the Georgians for a number of months has helped foster a deep affection for the local people, said Marine Capt. Jason Richter, the GSSOP operations officer. These strong ties have fueled the service members’ desire to do more for the Georgian people by helping their children.

Part of the task force’s renovations for the school included planting hedges between the school’s play yard and the street to prevent children from running into traffic. They also cleared a 50-foot section of sidewalk covered by dirt and debris from a small mudslide.

The team planted flowers to beautify the school’s recently re-claimed yard, which during the difficult decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, had deteriorated into a dumping ground for local residents. Additionally, they chopped wood for use as a heat source in preparation for upcoming winter weather.

Together, they planted an oak tree to symbolize the friendship and learning between the children and the Americans, said Marine 1st Lt. Andrew Howard, who labored with pick and shovel to break up the tough ground to dig a hole for the tree.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tommy Zeno, the GSSOP first sergeant, named the oak “The Learning Tree” and had a dedication plaque made for the occasion.

The outreach program involved more than 2,000 Georgian Lari, or about $1,100. The sum may not appear to be very high to American eyes, but it made an impact in a community where the average biology teacher’s monthly salary is 50 Georgian Lari ($28).

When the day’s work concluded, the teachers and students invited the U.S. military members into the school to experience a slice of Georgian culture to include a meal of local cuisine. Following the meal, the day’s climactic point came when everyone involved packed into the school cafeteria for a concert of ancient Georgian songs performed by the high school students.

Melodies and choruses of highlander songs from the Caucus Mountains washed over the crowd awe struck by the power that emanated from such a seemingly humble group of adolescents. A group of musicians also played to include a flute player who used two flutes simultaneously while the rest played stringed instruments with blinding speed.

By the day’s end, the volunteers of the U.S. task force were impressed and made a lasting imprint in the minds of young Georgians.

A father of two Waldorf students, Gia Ivanishvili, said the service members’ example taught a lesson about the spirit of volunteerism and community involvement to children raised in a culture still trying to shake the grip of a decaying Soviet mind set, which only acts when orders from the government are issued.

U.S. aircrews continue to do yeoman work in delivering supplies to the worst-hit areas, northeast of Islamabad. LeFever said 24 U.S. heavy-lift helicopters have delivered more than 5.6 million pounds of supplies and transported 3,400 casualties to aid stations. The U.S. effort has also carried 8,000 passengers, many of whom are people displaced by the quake.

U.S. personnel are also helping unload and distribute official aid and aid supplied by nongovernmental organizations. He said U.S. ground personnel volunteer to unload aircraft arriving in Islamabad from all over the world. They have unloaded almost 10 million pounds of supplies.

The 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is seeing patients in the city of Muzaffarabad. The hospital has treated more than 1,300 patients, covering everything from routine medical care to amputations. The doctors, nurses and medics at the facility have performed 125 surgeries, LeFever said.

The medics also are monitoring conditions in and around the city to prevent outbreaks of disease. A U.S. water purification unit is working with the medics to supply clean drinking water for the facility and for the surrounding population, the admiral said.

Navy Seabees based in Gulfport, Miss., are clearing roads, repairing culverts and clearing rubble in order to open routes to areas that still do not have ground transportation. The admiral said one valley has been cut off since the quake struck Oct. 8. Helicopters have been able to get supplies to the 170,000 people that Pakistani officials believe are affected.

American forces are doing great work but their conditions are Spartan, LeFever said. At the headquarters, troops receive one hot meal a day, with meals, ready-to-eat, making up the rest, LeFever said. The troops are living in 16-person tents with heaters.

Up in Muzaffarabad, Seabees and medics share an area on the Parliamentary Grounds. Pakistani police and rangers provide security for the Americans who live in tents. "They have kitchens up and running, but it's still primitive," LeFever said.

The admiral said U.S. morale is "sky high, because of the mission they are doing and because of the thousands of lives they are saying."

He said the U.S. military aid has had an unintended benefit. Average Pakistanis, many of whom were anti-American, are rethinking their impression of America and Americans.

Hardly show of force forces, or at least a redefinition of how hard power can become soft power.

Posted by Col Steve at November 21, 2005 03:23 PM

Now, you're right Anne about what's the above got to do with Iraq.

I find it ironic that John Kerry had a plan to get
US troops home in four years, but this administration couldn't possibly have something similar?

Positioning himself as the candidate offering a "smarter direction," Kerry also laid out a series of steps that he said could allow U.S. troops to be brought home within four years. 21 Sep 2004

I'll grant the use of phrases such as "stay the course" and "until the job is done" are not helpful unless one has clearly and repeatedly articulated what is the endstate of the course. I do find your use of the term "bugout" as disingenuous at this point given the progress toward criteria for US disengagement (elections, progress of Iraqi security forces - the article does not reflect what some of my peers returning from tours as trainers/advisers are saying). Time will tell whether that progress is genuine indeed.

I agree with Jonathan that the senior leaders miscalulated (or chose to ignore) the post regime change scenarios and the resulting requirement for boots on the ground (and subsequent policy decisions by Bremer). However, I'm certain the President's critics would be just as vocal if troop levels remained the same.

It smacks of damned if you do (we're bugging out) and damned if you don't (flawed strategy and/or poor execution). Kerry's plan (hold elections, use diplomacy to get the Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis to form a working government, and train Iraqi police/military forces to take over more responsibilities) is exactly what we're doing in Iraq. Just last month, Kerry said "It will be hard for this Administration, but it is essential to acknowledge that the insurgency will not be defeated unless our troop levels are drawn down, starting immediately after successful elections in December."

What's the right number to draw down? 60K?

I do find your use of the term "unwinnable" faulty as well. The battle is winnable. Victory and conflict resolution though ultimately will occur beyond the realm of military power. The military is only a supporting actor in that drama.

Posted by Col Steve at November 21, 2005 03:51 PM

Col. Steve: You're right, too. We're talking about very different scale issues, but you're right that small numbers of troops can play very powerful roles. And I did not mean to denigrate the fighting capacity of any of our overseas forces, just to note the disparity between the scale of our frontline forces and their likely enemies.

I was talking to my students about North Korea last week (my 20th century Japan class was curious about the issues surrounding the President's Japan-Korea-China visit) and pointed out that we don't actually know what the supply situation of the North Korean military is. We're sure they have missile and artillery capable of flattening Seoul, but what we don't know is if their forces have enough gasoline to actually drive there afterwards....

At risk of speaking for Anne, part of our (liberals?) problem with the administration is that it keeps making schedules and apparently making decisions, but won't actually commit to anything resembling a plan, or admit to doing anything resembling planning. The disjunction between the Republican hissy-fit in Congress over Murtha and the plan Anne links to here is enough to make my head spin. "Trust us, we know what we're doing" just doesn't fly as far as it used to....

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at November 21, 2005 06:48 PM

Col Steve, first let me explain that the use of the word "token" was not meant in a dismissive or condescending fashion. I searched for an alternate word but couldn't come up with anything that didn't sound ridiculously pretentious. (I thought of "task force" but that phrase implies more direction and a clearer mission than we have in Iraq.) A "token" force can, as you have amply illustrated, have a significant impact.

Iraq is a country where our troops are under attack every single day and where we have proven incapable of securing even a single city. Quite frankly, I fear deeply for the fates of the soldiers left behind during a "gradual" withdrawal of this nature.

Pulling out ten thousand troops here and ten thousand troops there is just a way of pretending that we're leaving as the Iraqi government, such as it is, "gains control" when nothing of the sort is happening.

And, as Jonathan said, the one thing that would give everyone hope of a decent outcome. a clear and well-publicized "plan" from a USofA government acting in good faith and with all possible transparency, is woefully lacking.

I'm not saying the Democrats have a magic plan for ending this invasion well. I don't think anyone does. I don't think anyone can. The Bush Administration has created a helluva mess.

Posted by Anne at November 22, 2005 10:05 AM