…on the consequences of withdrawal (and also, by implication, of having too few troops) in the New York Times by a Marine major named Ben Connable. Here he outlines the consequences of earlier semi-withdrawals:
American units have already withdrawn from the western Euphrates River valley — twice, in fact. As the insurgency heated up in early 2004, the Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes and went to fight insurgents in eastern Anbar, leaving the rest of the province in the hands of a battalion of troops. The Marines balanced obvious risk against the possible reward of overwhelming some of the insurgent groups in the east.
The consequences were immediate and bloody. Insurgents assumed control of several towns and villages. They tortured and executed police officers, local politicians, friendly tribal leaders and informants. They murdered contractors who had worked with the Americans or the Iraqi government. They tore down American-financed reconstruction projects and in a few cases imposed an extreme version of Islamic law. Many Iraqi military units collapsed in the absence of United States support.
The insurgents celebrated their self-described victory and exploited the withdrawal for propaganda purposes. Baathist-led insurgents used the opportunity to establish training camps and weapons caches in the farmland and along the river banks while other groups, including Al Qaeda, smuggled in fighters, suicide bombers and money to support operations in Ramadi, Falluja and Baghdad. Western Iraq became a temporary haven for criminals, terrorists and thousands of local thugs who made up de facto mini-regimes in the absence of a stabilizing force.
And here he is on what would happen if we withdrew now:
“Redeployed” in large bases far from the enemy centers of gravity, American troops wouldn’t be able to keep insurgent groups from forming semi-conventional units. This pattern has repeated itself countless times across Iraq and follows historic guerrilla-warfare models: insurgents exploit any safe haven to strengthen and train their forces. The longer they are left alone, the stronger they become. As our presence in the countryside diminishes, our ability to gather intelligence and to protect valuable infrastructure, communications lines and friendly tribal areas will deteriorate rapidly.
Should the Iraqi Army stay in place as American units withdraw, the American advisers embedded within these units probably would have to be removed, leaving nobody to control air support, coordinate unit pay from Baghdad, supervise the monthly convoys to take troops home on leave, prevent gross violations of the Geneva Convention or shore up shaky leadership. Given patient support, most of these units eventually will develop the capacity to conduct independent operations. However, some adviser teams already report that their Iraqi counterparts have said they intend to desert if the Americans leave too soon.