October 12, 2005

Iraq troop strengths: wait a minute

I think Yglesias are getting confused again about troop strengths, saying there were no more troops to commit to the 2003 Iraq invasion. What they're confusing is how large the American surge-sized force for the brief war period could have been, vice how many American soldiers could police Iraq on a sustained basis. The latter number, as we have seen the last couple years, is fairly inflexibly set at around 150,000, insufficient to control that country under current conditions.

The initial number of troops at the outset, however, had some greater level of flexibility to it. The invasion force ultimately amounted to approximately 15 brigade-sized elements from the Army, Marines, and Britain. Another 8 U.S. army brigade sized units were en route or being readied for Iraq when the apple dropped: the 4th Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the 2nd and 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiments. These units would ultimately be used as part of the second "roto" into Iraq, but by the summer or fall of 2003 they all could have been (Turkish permission would have helped with the 4th) lined along the border ready to contribute to the invasion force. With supporting units, this would have pushed Coalition troop strength up to the 250,000 mark.

Would this have made a difference? Impossible to tell. Certainly a greater presence would have contributed to to limiting early looting of ammunition dumps and cultural artefacts, and could certainly have improved the chances of capturing more of the senior Iraqi leadership early on. This could have had a significant impact on slowing the growth of the insurgency and buying the occupation more time. The tradeoff is that the numbers would have had to drop to a sustainable level in pretty short order, or greater concessions would have had to be made to either bring in more foreign support, keep parts of the Iraqi army in being, or both. Also, there were climactic and political reasons not to further delay the invasion past March, as well.

Yes, saying there should have been 420,000 troops in Iraq all this time, as Yglesias quotes Larry Diamond as saying, is basically saying the war should not have been fought. But saying there should have been a 250,000 troop commitment for the first few months rather than a 150,000 one is neither unrealistic nor illogical.

Posted by BruceR at 03:57 PM