Pauline Jelinek writes today (June 23, 2007) for the Associated Press:
The U.S. may be able to reduce combat forces in Iraq by next spring if Iraq’s own security forces continue to grow and improve, a senior American commander said Friday. He denied reports the U.S. is arming Sunni insurgent groups to help in the fight against al-Qaida.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top day-to-day commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, did not predict any reductions in U.S. forces but said such redeployments may be feasible by spring. There are currently 156,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Hmm, why does that sound familiar? Oh, I remember …
U.S. Signals Spring Start for Pullout
General Restates Position, Noting Contingencies, During Rumsfeld Visit to Baghdad
By Ann Scott Tyson and Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 28, 2005; Page A18
BAGHDAD, July 27 — The top U.S. military leader in Iraq said Wednesday there could be substantial withdrawals of some of the 135,000 U.S. troops in the country as early as next spring.
Gen. George W. Casey said that despite continued lethal attacks by insurgents, the security situation in Iraq had improved. He reiterated a position he had taken earlier this year on the possible decrease in the U.S. military presence during a one-day visit by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for meetings with Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari.
Back to the present, June 2007:
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon from his headquarters outside Baghdad, Odierno gave an update on the U.S. offensives under way in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad and in areas south and west of the capital. He said U.S. and Iraqi troops have made important progress.
“I think if everything goes the way it’s going now, there’s a potential that by the spring we will be able to reduce forces, and Iraq security forces could take over,” Odierno said. “It could happen sooner than that. I don’t know.”
From July 2005:
“If the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe we’ll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer,” Casey said before meeting with Jafari.
While U.S. officials have said recently that troop cutbacks are possible, Rumsfeld’s visit gave special focus to the prospects for withdrawals. Rumsfeld and other officials have rejected making a deadline public, but a secret British defense memo leaked this month in London said U.S. officials favored “a relatively bold reduction in force numbers.”
One week the Bushies are talking about “the long war” and how the effort in Iraq will take many years. The next week they talk “post-surge” strategy and reduction of troop forces. In fact, it would be an interesting exercise to go through news stories from the beginning of the war to see how many times the Bushies or the “commanders on the ground” told news media that troops reductions were just around the corner. I dimly remember some talk about troop reduction coming out of the White House during the 2004 election campaign, also.
However, the propaganda cycles are spinning so fast now they are bumping into each other. Thomas Ricks writes in today’s Washington Post:
The major U.S. offensive launched last weekend against insurgents in and around Baghdad has significantly expanded the military’s battleground in Iraq — “a surge of operations,” and no longer just of troops, as the second-ranking U.S. commander there said yesterday — but it has renewed concerns about whether even the bigger U.S. troop presence there is large enough.
As the U.S. offensive, code-named Phantom Thunder, has been greeted with a week of intensified fighting in areas outside the capital — areas that the U.S. military has largely left untouched for as long as three years — the push raised fears from security experts and officers in the field that the new attacks might simply propel the enemy from one area to another where there are not as many U.S. troops.
Since President Bush ordered the troop increase in January, the military had focused on creating a more secure environment in Baghdad. “We are beyond a surge of forces,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said yesterday in a briefing from his headquarters in the Iraqi capital. He did not directly address the size of the force, saying only that the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops over five months “allows us to operate in areas where we have not been for a long time.”
Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who in 2003 was among the first to call public attention to the relatively small size of the U.S. invasion force, said that the new operation shows how outnumbered U.S. troops remain. “Why would we think that a temporary presence of 30,000 additional combat troops in a giant city would change the dynamics of a bitter civil war?” he said in an interview yesterday. “It’s a fool’s errand.”
Compare/contrast to John Burns’s report in today’s New York Times:
The operational commander of troops battling to drive fighters with Al Qaeda from Baquba said Friday that 80 percent of the top Qaeda leaders in the city fled before the American-led offensive began earlier this week. He compared their flight with the escape of Qaeda leaders from Falluja ahead of an American offensive that recaptured that city in 2004.
In an otherwise upbeat assessment, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, told reporters that leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had been alerted to the Baquba offensive by widespread public discussion of the American plan to clear the city before the attack began. He portrayed the Qaeda leadersâ€™ escape as cowardice, saying that â€œwhen the fight comes, they leave,â€ abandoning â€œmidlevelâ€ Qaeda leaders and fighters to face the might of American troops â€” just, he said, as they did in Falluja.
Some American officers in Baquba have placed blame for the Qaeda leadersâ€™ flight on public remarks about the offensive in the days before it began by top American commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the overall commander in Iraq. But General Odierno cast the issue in broader terms, saying Qaeda leaders were bound to know an attack was coming in light of President Bushâ€™s decision to pour nearly 30,000 additional troops into the fight in a bid to secure Baghdad and areas around the capital that have been insurgent strongholds. That included Baquba, which lies 40 miles north.
â€œFrankly, I think they knew an operation was coming in Baquba,â€ General Odierno said in a teleconference briefing with Pentagon reporters from the American military headquarters in Baghdad. â€œThey watched the news. They understood we had a surge. They understood Baquba was designated as a problem area. So they knew we were going to come sooner or later.â€
Which begs the question: Why bother?
OK, we know why. Our troops are playing whack-a-mole to entertain the armchair warriors here at home and allow them to keep the faith. Meanwhile, the bulk of al Qaeda is comfortably entrenched in Pakistan and no doubt watchng our troops fight and die with much amusement also.
Speaking of al Qaeda, Josh Marshall notes:
I’ve long been amazed at how freely reporters accept it when this or that Arab or Muslim with a gun is labelled as “al Qaida.” And the issue is complicated by the fact that a new group — a post-invasion group with a very uncertain connection to the actual al Qaeda — has taken the name of al Qaeda in Iraq.
But is the standard bamboozle getting ramped up a notch? As Andrew Sullivan noted yesterday, even David Patraeus acts like the whole issue in Iraq now is just al Qaeda and Iranian arming of, I guess, al Qaeda. Otherwise things would be great.
This is the sort of thing that requires a close watching of the news and how things are being reported. Is ‘insurgent’ now being replaced across the board by al Qaeda. Keep an eye out and let us know what you see. We’ll do the same.
See also: The Iraq Insurgency for Beginners.
Update: See also Glenn Greenwald, “Everyone we fight in Iraq is now ‘al-Qaida’.”