Sunday, October 01, 2006

Top U.S. General Predicts We Will Be in Iraq for Another 20 Years

Thomas Ricks has an article in today's WaPo about the changing definition of Bush's "When Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" mantra:

The strategy in Iraq, President Bush has said often over the past year, is to stand down the U.S. military as Iraq's security forces stand up.

By strict numbers, the Iraqi side of that equation is almost complete. Training programs have developed more than 300,000 members of the Iraqi army and national police, close to the desired number of homegrown forces. Yet as that number has grown, so, too, has violence in Iraq. The summer was worse than ever, with July the deadliest month in three years, according to U.S. military data.

With the insurgency undiminished and Iraqi forces seemingly unable to counter it, U.S. commanders say they expect to stay at the current level of U.S. troops -- about 140,000 -- until at least next spring. That requirement is placing new strains on service members who leave Iraq and then must prepare to return a few months later. Tours of duty have been extended for two brigades in Iraq to boost troop levels.

So is the "stand down as they stand up" policy defunct? Not according to the Bush administration. But the meaning of the phrase appears to have changed, as leaders have begun shifting the blame for Iraq's problems away from the U.S. military and onto the country's own social and governmental institutions.

When Bush began invoking "stand up, stand down" in 2005, he repeatedly indicated that he was talking about getting Iraqi defense forces trained and on the job. For example, on Nov. 15, he said, "The plan [is] that we will train Iraqis, Iraqi troops, to be able to take the fight to the enemy. And as I have consistently said, as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

More recently, Bush has insisted that "the 'stand up, stand down' still holds." But he added more conditions, saying the troops can come home "when our commanders say . . . the Iraqi government is capable of defending itself and sustaining itself and governing itself."

And then there is this stunner, from the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq and in the Middle East:

"I believe that our U.S. forces need to be here at these numbers for three to five more years, to be honest," concluded Army Maj. Daniel Morgan, a 101st Airborne officer who just completed his second tour in Iraq.

When asked about training of Iraqis, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, spoke of an even longer term. "It's a generational level of work, not something that's going to be done overnight," he told PBS's Jim Lehrer last week. "And we're making good progress."

This school of thought emphasizes that "standing down" would apply only to U.S. combat forces. Even if Iraqi forces eventually stand up in the promised numbers and fight effectively, they still will need U.S. help in logistics, intelligence, maintenance and other specialized support functions for years to come, said an Army officer experienced in Iraq. He said he has heard from some comrades that providing such support may require a fairly substantial U.S. military presence in Iraq for as long as a decade more.

Put it this way: The children being born to U.S. military families today will be fighting in Iraq when they are grown.

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