I just had a conversation with a senior administration official about the surge. Here’s a few things I culled from the conversation, bearing on earlier discussions in this space:
1) The debate over how many troops are in a brigade seems entirely academic. A brigade is a brigade. It doesn’t matter much how you try to count the number of troops.
2) The surged American troops will be used in three ways: as embedded advisors with Iraqi units so there will be more “spine-stiffeners” with the Iraqis; as partners with the Iraqis–a U.S. battalion will partner with an Iraqi brigade in clearing and holding the nine districts of Baghdad; as a quick reaction force for specialized missions.
3) There has been some confusion about whether we will try to secure Baghdad all at once, which would take many more troops than the administration is talking about. Statements about how we will be free to go everywhere, including Sadr City, seem to suggest that we’re taking on all the problem at once. This is not the case. The plan will focus on mixed neighborhoods as a priority. But we don’t want any of the city to be off limits. We don’t want death squads to have a safe haven in Sadr City, but that doesn’t mean we will be invading it as our first order of business.
4) The Iraqis will be taking the lead, something the Kagan/Keane plan didn’t envision. But the administration felt it had to give the Iraqis something—i.e., notionally the lead role—in exchange for getting the Iraqis to agree to lift restrictions on the movement of our troops, to commit more Iraqi troops to the fight, and to work toward certain political reforms. We will obviously still have a lot of control.
5) The phasing of the surge is unavoidable. Since the surge is accomplished through adjusting rotations, it would be very difficult to get it there all at once. But President Bush has committed to sending the five brigades.
6) At the end of the day, Petreaus wants five brigades and he’s going to get five brigades. A lot of the detailed debate going on about tactics now isn’t particularly relevant, since Petreaus is the one who will ultimately be deciding these questions when he is on the ground in Iraq.