The Financial Times is reporting that "General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, has asked the Pentagon for two additional combat brigades[.]" My sense is that asking for more troops is strategically the right move. A common complaint over here is that we should have come in with more troops from the beginning. My sense is that it is not so much that the current troop levels are insufficient to handle the recent challenges. To the contrary, they have dispatched the enemy quickly. But rather, the problem is that Iraq is a pretty big place. To have a strong military presence simply requires a lot of bodies. The number I have heard frequently tossed around is 200,000, compared to current troop levels of approximately 130,000.
Another issue which is frequently complained of is length of deployment. A year ends up being a long time. The soldiers do not get weekends off, and on many posts they do not get much sleep either. The long days and hours, combined with time away from loved ones, takes its toll. The soldiers perform admirably, but the rotation time does not appear to be optimal. I will confess that I am not aware of all the reasons for the one-year rotations, and that I am willing to concede that the obstacles to putting in a 6-month term are likely prohibitive. For example, do we have sufficient volunteer troops to handle shorter rotation terms? And strategically, I have personally witnessed that the one-year rotation permits the soldiers to develop strong ties to locals, who begin to trust and to work with the soldiers. If the bases become revolving doors, developing these important relationships would be hindered.
While requesting more troops is the right strategic move, and indeed to my mind should have been done even in the absence of the recent uptick in violence, be prepared for renewed howls of "Vietnam" and "quagmire." What is stratigically correct is not always politically popular, and increasing troop levels is a move which I believe will prove that maxim true. But those who scream about quagmire should not be allowed to hide behind the veil of "supporting the troops." Many of these individuals joined Senator Kerry in voting against the appropriation bill that provided needed body armor for soldiers--a move that earned Senator Kerry the ire of many of those risking their lives here. And in using the increase in troop numbers as a basis to attack not just the policy of engagement, but tacitly the performance of the troops here, these chicken littles can hardly be said to be providing support.