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"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

"The National Guard is in a stage of meltdown.
Green Left Weekly
Doug Lorimer
August 10, 2005

IRAQ: US troop withdrawal planned for next year?

Doug Lorimer

Over the last few weeks the US corporate media have been abuzz with reports that the Pentagon has secretly drawn up plans to withdraw most of its troops from Iraq next year. This story was given a major boost when General George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad that there could be "fairly substantial reductions' in the numbers of US troops in Iraq by the next northern spring.

Casey's statement was given headline treatment in the US corporate press. It was interpreted as a signal that, while US President George Bush has repeatedly made public statements rejecting calls for a withdrawal timetable, the Pentagon has been instructed by the White House to secretly draw up just such a timetable.

Even when Pentagon officials denied this, the corporate press kept up the withdrawal spin. The July 28 Wall Street Journal, for example, ran a front-page article reporting that Pentagon officials not only denied that they had any plans for a reduction in the present size of US forces in Iraq, they said they were actually looking at increasing the number of US troops in Iraq in the next few months.

"Any troop reduction isn't likely to start soon; in fact, overall troop numbers are likely to go up somewhat before they begin to head down', the WSJ reported. Despite this, the article was headlined "US Opens Door for Big Pullback in Iraq Next Year'.

The media spin about secret Pentagon planning for a big withdrawal of US troops next year was given a further boost by the August 8 edition of Newsweek magazine, which hit newsstands on August 1.

"The Pentagon has developed a detailed plan in recent months to scale down the US troop presence in Iraq to about 80,000 by mid-2006 and down to 40,000 to 60,000 troops by the end of that year, according to two Pentagon officials involved in the planning who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of their work', Newsweek reported.

The report claimed that Casey had "hinted at those numbers last week' when he "told reporters that the United States will be ‘still able to take some fairly substantial reductions' if Iraq can keep to the timeline set out in the US-sponsored interim constitution, which calls for elections for a permanent Iraqi government by Dec. 15, 2005'.

The report then added: "After that, US officials believe, the main task of the US occupation will have been completed.'

Casey, however, stated that any reduction of US forces in Iraq would dependent upon Washington's puppet Iraqi security forces being able to take over from US troops in fighting the Iraqi anti-occupation insurgency, whose combat forces are "bigger than the US military in Iraq', according to General Mohammed Shahwani, the US-appointed Iraqi intelligence chief.

While Casey implied this might be possible next year, in a report prepared by General Peter Pace, the incoming top US military officer, concluded that only a "small number' of US-recruited Iraqi forces were capable of fighting the guerrillas "without US assistance'.

According to US military reports, of the 145,000 "combat-capable' Iraqi security forces, 50,000 exist only on paper (their pay being pocketed by their officers). Another 55,000 refuse to fight the anti-occupation guerrillas, and only 14,000 are fully trained, but are believed to be thoroughly infiltrated by supporters of the anti-occupation guerrillas.

Clearly, the puppet Iraqi forces are in no position to replace US troops in fighting the insurgency. So what is this talk about plans for a big US troops withdrawal next year? According to Newsweek, the "Bush administration wants to pre-empt growing public pressure for withdrawal, which could give the insurgents a Vietnam-like strategic goal'.

Latest opinion polls show that 53% of US voters now believe that the US will lose the war in Iraq and 51% want the Bush administration to set a timetable for withdrawal.

In addition, the Pentagon is well aware that its inability to crush the anti-occupation guerrillas in Iraq is eroding recruitment rates to the US military. "Military planners ... are deeply concerned about driving away Army careerists and recruits if current deployments are forced into 2007', Newsweek reported. "If the US Army has to do another rotation into Iraq in the fall of 2006 to keep force levels up to their current 138,000, it ‘goes off a cliff', says retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.'

After a week-long visit to Iraq in early June, McCaffrey, a retired US Army commander, told the US Senate's foreign relations committee on July 18 that the strain of the war in Iraq was pushing the US military forces toward a "meltdown'. McCaffrey told the committee: "The Army and Marines are starting to come apart. The National Guard is in a stage of meltdown.'

McCaffrey's assessment was supported by a US Army mental health team's study dated January 30 and released on July 20. The study found that 54% of US soldiers in Iraq rated their unit's morale as low or very low. Summarising the findings of the study, Associated Press reported that "psychological stress is weighing particularly heavily on National Guard and Reserve troops ...

"The thing that bothered soldiers the most, the latest assessment said, was the length of their required stay in Iraq. At the start of the war, most were deployed for six months, but now they go for 12 months.'

The talk of a big pull-out of US troops from Iraq next year is particularly aimed at countering the low morale among National Guard and Reserve troops. These part-time soldiers make up about 35% of the US occupation forces in Iraq, down from more than 40% a year ago.

The July 12 New York Times reported that the number of Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers deployed in Iraq will fall substantially over the next 12 months simply because "more and more of these troops who have been involuntarily mobilized are nearing their 24-month maximum call-up limit set by the Bush administration'.

The Times went on to report that the Pentagon would attempt to compensate for the decline in the number of part-time soldiers able to be deployed in Iraq by "increasingly turning to the Navy and Air Force to provide truck drivers and security personnel' and "hiring more private contractors', that is, mercenary soldiers, of whom there are already about 20,000 in Iraq.

While Pentagon officials feed stories to the corporate media about plans for a substantial US troop reduction next year, Washington continues to push ahead with its strategic plan for Iraq. This calls for the building of four large, small-city-sized bases from which US troops and air power will permanently control Iraq and provide the platform for mounting a future Iraq-style "regime change' invasion of neighbouring oil- and gas-rich Iran.

The May 22 Washington Post reported that this plan calls for "construction of long-lasting facilities, such as barracks and offices built of concrete blocks, rather than the metal trailers and buildings that are found at the [existing] larger US bases in Iraq ...

"The new buildings are being designed to withstand direct mortar strikes, according to a senior military engineer. Funding for the first group of redesigned barracks was included in the $82 billion supplemental war-spending bill approved by Congress this month, he said.'

In a letter published in the July 30 New York Times, Ronald Asher from Irvine, California, argued that Washington has "no real withdrawal plan', adding: "My brother-in-law just returned from a stint in Iraq with the Minnesota Air National Guard. Although he couldn't tell me where in Iraq he was stationed, he did say that the level and type of construction going on at the air base convinced him that the United States military planned on being there for a very long time.'

From Green Left Weekly, August 10, 2005.
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