Drawdown Plan May Leave Combat Brigades in Iraq

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (IPS) — President Barack Obama has given military commanders a free hand to determine the size and composition of a residual force in Iraq up to 50,000 troops, apparently including the option of leaving one or more combat brigades or bringing them from the United States, after the August 2010 deadline for the ostensible withdrawal of all combat brigades now in Iraq.

Although the ostensible purpose of the combat brigades remaining in Iraq would be to protect other U.S. troops in the country, they would also provide the kind of combat capability that U.S. commanders have wanted to maintain to deal with a broad range of contingencies.

The fact that the commanders have the option to nullify Obama’s pledge to removal all combat brigades raises serious questions about whether he has given up control over his Iraq policy.

Obama declared, in a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina that by Aug. 31, 2010, “[O]ur combat mission in Iraq will end.” But he confirmed earlier indications from administration officials that the residual force would be from 35,000 to 50,000 troops — far higher than Democratic congressional leaders had previously been led to expect by Obama.

Obama did not refer to the possibility that combat brigades would remain in the country after Aug. 31, 2010, but Defence Secretary Robert Gates admitted as much in a question and answer session with reporters after the speech.

Obama also stated, “I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.” But Gates, and the top commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, have both indicated on the record that they wanted to keep U.S. troops in Iraq even after that date, based on the assumption that the Iraqi government will renegotiate the Status of Forces agreement.

NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported just before Obama’s speech that discussions had taken place in the Kirkuk area between some U.S. military commanders and Iraqis “to establish what could end up as a permanent air base, U.S. air base, in Kirkuk.”

Obama’s claim that the U.S. combat mission will end in August 2010 raises the question whether he will call a halt to combat patrols by U.S. personnel embedded with Iraqi units. The sweeping concession made to CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq commander Gen. Odierno on the residual force suggests that he will not demand the end of such operations by U.S. troops.

The freedom granted to Odierno and Petraeus on the residual force overshadows his concession to the generals and Gates in accepting the recommendation for 19-month timetable for withdrawing combat brigades.

Obama had appeared to be leaning toward the 16-month withdrawal of combat brigades he had pledged during the campaign as recently as a Jan. 21 White House meeting with Gates and Petraeus.

Obama provided no further details on the residual force. According to the Washington Post report published Friday, two unnamed “senior officials” — one of whom was presumably Secretary Gates – told Congressional leaders Thursday that Obama would let commanders decide not only the exact schedule of withdrawal of combat brigades but the size of the residual force.

In a teleconference with reporters Friday afternoon, Gates appeared to confirm indirectly that he and field commanders have discussed either keeping combat brigades in Iraq but calling them “non-combat” forces or actually sending new combat brigades to Iraq from the United States during the drawdown of the brigades now in Iraq.

A reporter asked Gates, “You have said they’re not going to be combat brigades, but are you going to take combat brigades that are in the United States and sort of rename them, redesignate them, or are you going to create new units for this specific mission?”

Gates first sidestepped the question entirely. “[W]ith respect to the 35,000 to 50,000,” he said, “I think that that’s a question probably better directed at General Odierno.” But he then added, “[I]n terms of whether those are new units or whether they are re-missioned units that are already there, I think remains to be seen.”

CBS News Pentagon correspondent David Martin, reflecting the leaks from Pentagon officials, reported Feb. 24 that the residual force would be organised in “training and assistance brigades” that would be capable of conducting combat operations and calling air strikes from carrier or land-based aircraft. In a comment to CBS News Political Hotsheet, Martin said the units would be “fully combat capable”, suggesting that they would be drawn from combat brigades.

Some leading Senate and House Democrats were clearly taken by surprise by the size of the residual force to which Obama had agreed. On the Rachel Maddow Show Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “I don’t know what the justification is for 50,000, a presence of 50,000 troops in Iraq.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, both indicated that the figure was higher than they had expected. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said, “I do think we have to look carefully at the numbers that are there and do it as quickly as we can.”

Defeated Republican presidential candidate John McCain, on the other hand, sounded like a loyal supporter of Obama’s decision, saying it is “reasonable” and that he is “cautiously optimistic that the plan that is laid out by the president can lead to success.”

Obama even took a step toward committing himself to reversing the whole withdrawal policy if violence in Iraq resumes anytime before the end of 2011. Rep. John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama had assured him that he would “revisit” the withdrawal plan “if the situation on the ground deteriorates and violence increases.”

The decision on Iraq policy announced by Obama Friday ended a four-month period of maneuvering by Gates, Odierno and CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus aimed at getting Obama to change his Iraq policy.

Gates and the two generals had wanted to keep a large residual force, including combat brigades, in Iraq not only through 2011 but for at least another four years beyond that. They had presented a 23-month draw-down plan to Obama at the Jan. 21 White House meeting as an alternative to his 16-month drawdown plan.

Later, they settled on 19 months as an acceptable compromise. It is now clear, however, that the primary objective of the trio was to get Obama to approve complete control by the commanders over the residual force up to 50,000.

The Washington Post reported that the senior administration officials who briefed Congressional leaders Thursday said that Obama’s “senior civilian and military advisers” — meaning Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen — had recommended both the 19-month drawdown plan and the size of the residual force.

The Post reported the “senior officials” as suggesting that the reason for both recommendations was to avoid “jeopardizing Iraq’s still-fragile security.” However, a source who was close to Obama during the campaign and maintains ties to his advisers said Obama’s acceptance of the 19-month plan was to “defuse the conflict with the Pentagon.”

Not mentioned in either Obama’s speech or briefings by Gates is the question of whether U.S. pilots and planes will be part of the residual force after August 2010. The silence on that matter suggests that U.S. airpower will continue to participate in combat, despite the supposed end of the U.S. combat mission.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. Read other articles by Gareth.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 28th, 2009 at 11:17am #

    about combat troops in afgh’n and iraq? wld these combatants mostly shoot misiles at houses? and do some combatting against resistance fighters only after the latter fire upon nato soldiers.

    so, the model of violence wld be same or similar to that of IOF which shoots from air, artillery, tanks, helis, etc., but largely avoids footwar?

    as the massacre of gazans prove, resistance does not shun from accepting civilians deaths/maimings or even losing fighters selves.

    taliban fighting mode appears similar to that of hezbos and gazans. the more civilians killed in afgh’n, more fighters are obtained?

    in gaza, the idea was to have isr. destroy many buildings for gazan resistors to move in and have a better lie to shoot at israelis than from trenches, holes, tunnel openings.

    let DV have an expert in asymmetrical warfare tell us how do resistors fight?
    of course, resistance fighters won’t tell us the nature of their warfare.
    so, i’m not asking that a hezbo or a gazan tells me that. thnx

  2. Erroll said on February 28th, 2009 at 12:02pm #

    After seeing the [alleged] antiwar candidate’s latest bellicose actions, one has to wonder how Obama’s decisions to keep a huige “residual force” in Iraq would have been all that different if John McCain had been elected president. Yet so many liberals are still loath to recognize Obama as being the militant leader who is so quick to take aggressive action against third world countries.

  3. Max Shields said on February 28th, 2009 at 12:34pm #

    Erroll you are right. The only substantive difference between Obama and McCain is the expanding the war into Pakistan. Obama was and is for it and McCain indicated he was not planning such action if elected.

    What we see unfolding is what McCain called for, following the South Korean model of US occupation in Iraq. That’s a 50+ year commitment to occupy the arguably oil reserve richest nation in the world.

    So, much for transformative leadership! The MIC empire gained a more articulate spokesperson in Obama.

  4. Deadbeat said on February 28th, 2009 at 1:50pm #

    That’s a 50+ year commitment to occupy the arguably oil reserve richest nation in the world.

    Maybe oil part of the reason or not at all. Perhaps because Iraq has traditionally supported the Palestinian cause which is a “threat” to Zionism. Now that Iraqi leaders also has open up ties with its neighbor Iran, Obama’s fealty to Zionism won’t permit him to leave. The “War for Oil” has been a major canard by posers on the Left who infused the “anti-war” movement with confusion and to retard any kind solidarity especially surrounding a boycott of Israel.

    The notion that this is about “empire” has also been part of the distraction as well. Any challenge to the real “empire” has been stunted by the vast amount of misinformation that has been promoted by the “Left” regarding the war “on” Iraq.

  5. rosemarie jackowski said on February 28th, 2009 at 2:34pm #

    Of course the US will leave combat troops in Iraq. Only TV news readers like Katie Couric refer to them as “non-combat”.

    If he carries a weapon, is backed up by tanks and planes, and has access to DU and cluster bombs, he is not a farmer or plumber. He is a combat troop. The propaganda around this issue is mind-numbing.

    Seems that the voters cannot admit that they were duped.

  6. Max Shields said on February 28th, 2009 at 2:36pm #

    Deadbeat what is it you’re on? I’m mean, the symptoms seem always to lead back to this idea that the delusional are seeing clear, and the sun does rise in the West. And that all remarks to the contrary are “leftist” conspiracies based in the book for Zion.

    Yes, it is all an illusion, Deadbeat, just one big flash.

    Peace be with you during your difficult times.

  7. Tree said on February 28th, 2009 at 3:19pm #

    An interesting article from 2005 on one of the reasons for Iraq, and it’s not oil.


  8. Max Shields said on February 28th, 2009 at 3:36pm #

    So, Tree what do you think Monsanto is all about? Particularly that division of Monsanto dedicated to the industrialization and genetic engineering of seed?

    Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t all kinds of things that went on in George W. Bush’s little head. He might have gone into Iraq because Saddam Hussain once “threatened” his daddy. Or, he was trying to one up his pops.

    Come’n, Monsanto is a fossil based company. Take a look at Onmivour’s Dilemma. When the agribusiness farmer in the mid-west was asked about this endless monoculture of corn and soy, he answered it’s ALL about the military industrial complex. All of that corn comes from Monsanto see and all of the fertizler is OIL (artifical nitrate).

    But I rather doubt the whole invasion/occupation of Iraq was about Monsanto per se, though as a major US imperial corporation, they certainly play their hand at the table of power.

    Invading and occupying Iraq may have many little fathers (most denying it) but it is a fact (something we need to concede now and again), Iraq has the world’s largest oil reserve. Are we there because, as Deadbeat would want us all to STAN D UP and BELIEVE IT’S THE ZIONISTS THAT ARE MAKING THE US INVADE AND OCCUPY!!

    Deadbeat so believes this that he’ll attempt to refute just about every history book ever written or any documentation on American expansionism JUST to make his only point, his reason for commenting here on DV.

    (btw, Tree, Bremmer didn’t get into the Iraq quagmire until after the occupation began.)

  9. Tree said on February 28th, 2009 at 4:06pm #

    I just thought it was an interesting article that reveals the myriad ways occupation work.
    I found this article shortly after reading one in the New Yorker about seed banks and how the seed bank in Iraq had been destroyed, or “vanished” as this article puts it. The whole thing is insidious.

  10. Tree said on February 28th, 2009 at 4:07pm #

    Max, I phrased my original comment badly. I should not have written “one of the reasons” for Iraq but maybe a better way would have been, “one of the outcomes of Iraq.”

  11. Shabnam said on February 28th, 2009 at 6:00pm #

    Many believe that Obama is hundred times worse than Bush, because he has been chosen for, not his ‘intelligence’ rather his black skin to sell it to ignorant people around the world to improve the US credibility to show ‘everything is possible’ under the ‘new world order’ even election of a black president. In fact, his masters are using his black skin, and Obama is selling it for his membership, as symbol of ‘oppressed’ people to execute their plot against African countries, mainly Sudan and Zimbabwe and in the Middle East. He just agreed with zionists and zionist occupied countries such as Canada and West European countries to boycott UN conference on racism. He does not deserve to be there anyway because he is a racist. Shame on Obama, a puppet.
    The following video, “The Men Behind Barack Obama” says it all. I hope Iran does not cooperate with Obama’s racist game in the region. India is defenitely playing her share because the game wants India as dominat power in the region, which is desirable to Israel, where it requires to kill more Muslims to achieve their goal.