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More Kagan, Troops, and the Surge


Belgravia Dispatch is back at it in another obfuscatory post. In response to my post from yesterday, he says he will “make it harder” for himself by putting aside Kagan’s call for 50-80,000 troops to secure Baghdad. But he’s really making it easier for himself since it allows him to elide the fact that he blatantly misrepresented what Kagan had wrote. 80,000 was a ballpark of what it would take to secure Baghdad all at once. 50,000 was a ballpark of what it would take to begin to secure it in phases. That’s clear, it’s all in black-and-white. Djerejian prefers to skip over all that to make the “speculative” smear that Kagan “might have bowed to AEI elders hoping to get the think-tank a good shot at preening that an in-house plan became that of POTUS.”

Here is where it gets confusing, and I want to make it clear that I’m defending Kagan here, not the administration’s plan. Subsequent to floating his ballpark figure of 50,000, Kagan sat down with various military experts and came up with a more detailed plan (Kagan/Keane) that called for sending five brigades to Baghdad and two regiments to Anbar, for a surge of roughly 30,000 combat troops. Note the words “combat troops.” Kagan/Keane didn’t account for all the logistics and other support elements that would be involved because to figure that out would have taken a level of detailed planned they weren’t capable of, so they stuck to 30,000 combat troops. If you add in the troops necessary to support them, you probably get to something close to his original estimate of 50,000 (which, again, was only a back-of-the-envelope estimate).

Another confusing element: the administration’s plan. It proposes sending five brigades to Baghdad and one regiment to Anbar. Roughly the same as Kagan/Keane, plus or minus one regiment. But the administration is saying the five brigades will only have 3,500 troops each. This is the lowest possible number, and appears to be a way to low-ball the stated troop surge for PR reasons. What actually goes to Iraq is likely to be larger, and what is key is that five bridages are going, not what the administration says the troop number is.

As I understand it (usual disclaimer: I’m no expert), if you count the “garrison” strength of the brigade-when it’s here at home, and not preparing to deploy-it comes to roughly 3,500. But a brigade combat team is typically augmented in other ways to support it during combat so you probably get roughly to 5,000. Then, to move 5,000 additional troops into Iraq and support them takes even more troops. So there is no way this surge, if all of it takes place, would be just 17,500 troops. (Interesingly, in this case, it is critics of the Bush administration who are buying the administration’s spin by believing that 17,500 is a hard and fast number.)

Now, there are real problems with the administration plan. There’s the matter of chain of command, which Djerejian notes, and I noted yesterday. Despite all his rhetorical heavy-breathing, Djerjian misses the main flaw of the administration’s approach if you are trying to drive a wedge between it and Kagan/Keane. Kagan/Keane wanted five brigades for part of Baghdad, the administration wants five brigades for the entire city, and initially is only going to send two (as I also noted yesterday). That seems like a formula for again seriously under-manning our security operations in Baghdad. Also, it is still not entirely clear to me, with all the conflicting signals out there, whether the additional U.S. troops will primarily be clearing and holding on their own, or helping the Iraqis clear and hold. The latter is a very dubious proposition. 

Finally, my bottom line on this continues to be that the most important thing is that we’re going to get a general on the ground who knows counter-insurgency and will have a lot riding on making this work. Presumably he’ll be able to make adjustments, and ask for more resources, as necessary.