FUTURE OF U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ HANGS IN THE BALANCE

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FUTURE OF U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ HANGS IN THE BALANCE

By Diane M. Grassi        

At the end of July 2005 the Pentagon announced, through General John Abizaid, head of the United States Central Command in Iraq, that some fairly substantial reductions in U.S. troops could be expected by the spring and summer of 2006. General Abizaid was basing his assessment upon the future political process in Iraq and the progress of Iraqi forces and their role in assuming more responsibility in the security of their own country. Initial estimates of troop reduction were between 20,000 and 30,000.

At present the U.S. military is supplying 138,000 troops in Iraq and reached a high of 160,000 in December 2004 just prior to and after the Iraq elections of December 30th. And just days since the announcement of reducing U.S. troops next year comes the Pentagon’s plan to increase U.S. troops once again this fall for Iraq’s constitutional referendum on October 15, 2005 and the December elections to follow for a new government, according to Lawrence Di Rita, spokesman for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. These dates hinge on the completion of the draft of Iraq’s constitution which was promised by August 15, 2005.

     

Adding troops would be accomplished by again prolonging tours of duty for those already serving in Iraq. The Defense Department expects to deploy new units such as the 101st Airborne Division as well as the 4th Infantry Division as planned in the next several months and has no plans as yet to prematurely send them. Secretary Rumsfeld on July 20, 2005 stated, We can reasonably expect to see an increase in violence as they continue to move towards their political goals and the referendum on October 15th for the constitution. But there also has been speculation over the timing of beefing up the ranks at this juncture.

On August 3, 2005 14 Marines from the Brook Park, Ohio-based 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, a Reserve unit attached to the Regimental Combat Team-2, were killed by a 500 pound artillery shell when traveling in their armored amphibious vehicle to reach insurgents infiltrating Iraq from Syria, around a village near the Haditha dam, along the Euphrates Valley in western Iraq. 15 Marines were on board the vehicle, in addition to a civilian translator. 14 Marines and the translator were killed and one Marine survived. It was described as the deadliest roadside bombing suffered by American forces since the onset of the War in Iraq in 2003. These fallen men followed the deaths of six sniper members of their unit on August 1, 2005 who were caught in an ambush. In all, 44 American service members have perished in Iraq since July 24, 2005 to date, all in combat, with the exception of two.

Brig. General Carter Ham, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained that the Marines were trying to contain a very lethal and unfortunately adaptable enemy. Dick Bridges, spokesman for the Pentagon’s task force said Insurgents have begin using significantly larger explosives buried in the road, some as large as 500 to 600 pounds. These explosives are so large and powerful that no U.S. vehicle can withstand a direct hit. They’ve upped the ante by using shaped charges’ which is an explosive that concentrates a blast so it can penetrate armored vehicles.

Also brought into question, however, is the use of the amphibious assault vehicle or AAV, called an Amtrac, designed to mainly carry troops from ships to a short distance inland. Originally modeled after a 1937 rescue carrier for hurricanes in Clearwater, Florida, it was used in World War I, World War II, in Korea and Vietnam and the current AAV is based on the 1973 model. The AAV is made of aluminum and has limited armor in order for its ability to float in water. Much of the equipment utilized by the Marines in Iraq was purchased with the idea of a shore assault in mind, according to Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Washington, D.C. The AAV was not designed to stave off attacks from roadside bombs but rather 7.62mm rifle rounds or 155mm artillery fragments. It usually travels at an average speed of 30mph.

A more advanced AAV, called the Advanced Assault Amphibious Vehicle, is being developed, but will not be available for initial operating capability until at least 2006 with a full roll out in 2012. Although officials have acknowledged that the Marines are relying on a vehicle primarily designed for a different kind of warfare such as at Iwo Jima in the Pacific theater of World War II, they claim that they are used because there simply are not enough of the much heavier armored Adams tanks to go around. However, the original intent of the amphibious vehicles was to use them in combined-arms’ assaults, with heavy amounts of air support. The present AAV according to Daniel Goure, also of the Lexington Institute said, The vehicle wasn’t designed to engage in the kind of day-to-day patrolling of insurgent-controlled areas the Marines are doing in western Iraq. Lightly armored and underpowered, it is essentially a big boat on land.

But while the armor kits and factory production of fully armored Humvees was delayed and under funded over the past several months, with additional funds presently held up by the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate until after the summer recess when Congress reconvenes in September, addressing alternative vehicles or weaponry for the armed forces is not yet a realistic possibility. The AAV much like the Humvee, many which went unarmored for the bulk of the war effort in Iraq, has come under criticism for the same reason. Neither was designed for guerilla-war duty for which they have been used.

And while the mixed messages mount regarding the appropriate size of our armed forces in Iraq and debates arise about the integrity of the equipment being utilized in the war effort, much overlooked other than by those directly involved, is the frequency of troops being sent back to combat. Since the all-volunteer U.S. military was created in 1973 after the mandatory draft ended, the number of required multiple tours of duty is unprecedented. Also unprecedented is the dependence on so many of U.S. service members from the Reserve, serving all branches of the armed forces in addition to the National Guard, which account for nearly 50% of all troops. In that sense, it appears bleak for those in the field, being asked to extend their tours when most have been gone from the states for over a year at a time, with the Marines deployed for seven months. Some have come to expect that they may be required to serve longer.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looks at the War in Iraq from a different perspective, however, than those in the field. In the August 7th online edition of Time Magazine Rice stated, If you think about how to defeat an insurgency, you defeat it not just militarily but politically, adding that the insurgents are losing steam politically. And Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) said that while insurgents are confounding U.S. forces and using tactics for which American commanders are not prepared, progress is being made. The fact is that we are proceeding with the reconstruction of the country, with the building of a constitution. But whether members of the U.S. military signed up for that mission remains a big question in the eyes of the American people.

 

 

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