More on the Iraq Troop-Reduction Plan
The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post all follow The Associated Press’ break yesterday afternoon that President Obama is about to decide on a plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by August 2010. The Times has an interesting bit of bureaucratic scorecarding:
Both Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen made their own recommendations to the president about what they saw as the best option, but Pentagon officials declined to specify them. One senior defense official did say that Mr. Gates “has historically always been extremely deferential to his commanders in the field.”
That would seem to suggest that Defense Secretary Gates believes — along with Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq — that a 16-month drawdown was a bad idea, but it’s unclear whether Gates favored a 23-month withdrawal plan.
Anyway, the remaining troops — 30,000 to 50,000 of them — will remain in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces and conduct limited missions. But “training” in Iraq is hard to distinguish from combat. Over the past several years, the United States has adopted a training posture that tries to blend U.S. units on missions alongside Iraqi units, with the Iraqis intended to gradually take the lead on missions. As The Times explains:
Similarly, defense officials said they did not know how many combat troops would stay behind in new missions as trainers, advisers or counterterrorism forces, at least some of whom would still be effectively in combat roles. Military planners have said that in order to meet withdrawal deadlines, they would reassign some combat troops to training and support of the Iraqis, even though the troops would still be armed and go on combat patrols with their Iraqi counterparts.
The implementation of the withdrawal plan and the transition to new missions is Odierno’s prerogative. He’s said to be cautious about a too-rapid withdrawal, so it’ll be interesting to watch how the contours of a “training” mission develop.