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U.S. Troops Pile Into Iraq In Record Numbers

by Jim Lobe

Wishful Thinking Doesn't Make It True

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's announcement this week that it is adding 12,000 more troops to the approximately 138,000 soldiers it already has in Iraq has put an abrupt end to the fleeting sense of triumph that followed November's "victory" by U.S. marines who regained control of Fallujah, the main Sunni rebel stronghold.

While the administration sought to spin the decision as a matter of keeping the insurgents "on the run" and backing up security for elections scheduled to take place Jan. 30, most analysts have described the move as an admission that Washington's counter-insurgency campaign has not, in fact, been going particularly well.

That conclusion was anticipated to some extent just the day before, as the Pentagon confirmed 134 U.S. servicemen were killed in November, making it the most lethal month since the March 2003 invasion along with April, when the same number of soldiers were killed battling Sunni rebels and Shi'a insurgents in Baghdad and in the occupied country's south.

Given the recent disappointing performance of Iraqi police and security forces, the influx of more U.S. troops marks at least a symbolic setback to the larger strategy of "Iraqification," or giving indigenous Iraqi forces more responsibility for maintaining order and keeping the largely Sunni insurrection in check.

"I fear that it signals a 're-Americanization' ... of our strategy in Iraq," retired Army Col. Ralph Hallenback, who worked with the U.S. occupation in 2003, told Thursday's 'Washington Post.'

The announcement also offered an "I-told-you-so" moment to any number of critics, who have argued from the outset that the Pentagon's civilian leadership, in hoping to prove that wars could be won with fewer forces, more firepower and greater speed, was wrong.

Washington, their argument goes, might have made a major tactical -- if not strategic -- mistake in not carrying out the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation with a far bigger force, as the army had strongly recommended.

"I believe we should have had more at the beginning. Some of the difficulties we have in Iraq may not have had the same impact as they are having now," said Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who was visiting Baghdad with a congressional delegation Thursday.

Hagel, like many other Vietnam War veterans, has long argued that when Washington commits its troops abroad it should do so only with overwhelming force and a clear "exit strategy" -- key elements of what came to be known as the Powell Doctrine, named for the outgoing secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.

For the vets, one of the most important lessons of the whole Indochina debacle was to scrupulously avoid situations in which U.S. forces found themselves in an escalating guerrilla war, where the only way to contain a growing insurgency was to deploy more troops to the theatre.

"Adding troops at this point is the opposite of what senior Pentagon officials expected when the war began in March 2003," noted the Post's veteran military correspondent Thomas Ricks.

"We now face the plain fact that the insurgency is growing," wrote Joseph Galloway, Ricks' experienced counterpart at Knight Ridder Newspapers, who scorned the claims of one widely quoted senior U.S. military commander that the Fallujah campaign had "broken the back of the insurgency."

Galloway noted that rebels had recently been mounting as many as 150 attacks a day -- 10 times the number of one year ago.

"Why does my mind keep going back to the ... Powell doctrine?" he asked in reference to lessons learned in Vietnam, "which the current civilian leadership in the Pentagon declared dead and gone while they were doing their victory laps and praising their own strategy of smaller, faster, deadlier in the field of military affairs?"

The announcement on troop numbers raises yet another bogeyman from the Vietnam era -- the administration's "credibility" in conducting the war, particularly when the top civilian leadership not only had insisted from the start that the number of "boots on the ground" was adequate, but had also ridiculed senior retired and active-duty military officials who publicly warned before the invasion that many more would be needed.

"We should have levelled with the American people in the beginning," Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden -- who is travelling with Hagel -- told reporters in Baghdad.

"It was absolutely inevitable," that more troops would be needed, he said, adding that the administration's claims that January's elections and the training of more Iraqi security forces would permit Washington to rapidly draw down its troops beginning as early as the end of 2005 were unrealistic.

The U.S. escalation, he said, "(has) made American citizens believe that they were ... misled or that things are in a worse shape (than they have been told)."

Certainly in worse shape is the military itself. Troops who were originally promized tours of duty that would not exceed 12 months at the absolute most are now looking at extensions of two months at least. Some units originally scheduled to return home in October have been told they will have to wait until March 2005.

As noted by the 'New York Times,' extending the tours of duty "is risking problems with morale and retention," which is already a rising concern both in the ranks and on Capitol Hill.

It didn't help that the much-read "Perspectives" page of 'Newsweek' this week featured Marine Staff Sgt Russell Slay's "instructions" to his five-year-old son in a letter he sent to his family shortly before he was killed in Iraq. "Be studious, stay in school, and stay away from the military. I mean it."

Last week the Army National Guard announced it has fallen significantly behind its recruiting goals this fall, continuing a downward slide that began last year. The guard missed its October target by 30 percent.

At the same time, the 'Baltimore Sun' reported the army is planning to pull officers out of military professional schools or delay their entry into academic programs in order to meet "war-time needs." It is also considering curbing "family-oriented programs," such as one that permits soldiers to extend their tours of duty at particular U.S. bases so their children can finish high school.

Also, the 'Los Angeles Times' reported last week that the Marine Corps is offering bonuses of up to $30,000, in some cases tax-free, to persuade enlisted personnel with combat and experience or training to re-enlist.

Such reports are feeding efforts by some lawmakers to add as many as 50,000 soldiers to the armed forces, an expense that Pentagon and so-called "deficit hawks" in Congress would prefer desperately to avoid. Deficits, indeed, are another bad word that has echoes of the Vietnam era.

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Albion Monitor December 2, 2004 (

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