What will the additional 21,000 U.S. troops be doing in Iraq?


January 12, 2007

In a speech on Wednesday night at the White House, President Bush announced that more than 20,000 additional troops will be heading to Iraq to help deal with the sectarian violence that has the country in what many consider to be in a state of crisis. In the same speech, Bush referred to mistakes that had been made in the handling of the war. Presumably, the dire state of affairs in Iraq can be attributed at least in part to those mistakes. So how does the United States plan to position those additional troops in order to avoid past errors?

According to officials in the Bush administration, the troop increase will be used primarily to bolster the support and training of the Iraqi security forces. They will be backing up Iraqi units in the mission to protect the Iraqi people from the rising militia violence and eventually quell it. Generals and soldiers in Iraq, according to most accounts, support the increase and the focus area, saying there are simply not enough U.S. soldiers to secure the neighborhoods where the killing is taking place, and the Iraqi security forces are not ready to do it themselves. Most of the additional soldiers will be deployed to Baghdad, where they will work with Iraqi forces to secure the capitol and stem the growing violence attributed mostly to Shiite militias loyal to the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Some of the troops will be sent to the Anbar province, which has also become a militia war zone.


Ideally, the use of the additional troops to support the Iraqi forces while other troops -- whose tours will be extended at least three months in order to maintain the overall increase in numbers -- work to secure volatile areas could lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces. The idea is for the Iraqi units to have the proper training and experience to take over the job of securing Iraq without the need for U.S. back-up. In the meantime, those actually on the ground in the Iraq War report that when U.S. firepower is on the scene in enough numbers, violence in that particular area typically decreases. But they can't be everywhere at once.

As a group, Democrats oppose the increase, and many moderate Republicans have also spoken out against it. The main argument against the deployment of additional troops appears to be along the lines of, "Why put more bodies in the line of fire in a war that is no longer ours?" Many believe the fact that Iraq seems to be descending into a full-fledged civil war belies the wisdom of sending more U.S. troops into the line of fire; that the current battle is between two Iraqi sects, neither of which want a U.S. presence in Iraq, and increasing U.S. numbers will only exacerbate the violence. Iraqi officials and other powers in the Middle East seem to agree with this opinion. But many (if not most) members of the U.S. military, both on the ground and in Washington, do not agree with this reasoning.

Britain, the United States' most visible ally in the Iraq War up to this point, tentatively supports the Bush plan but says it does not intend to send additional British troops to Iraq.

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