When Gen. David Petraeus faces members of Congress next week, he's expected to talk about momentum in Iraq. The idea is to bring Congress on board with the idea of keeping large numbers of troops in Iraq through spring. The plan, known informally as the "surge," wasn't originally billed as a long-term strategy. The Pentagon and the administration were deliberately vague about a plan that they knew early on would last well into 2008.
The "surge" was announced on Jan. 10, 2007, when President Bush announced a new plan to commit more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq. When all was said and done, that number ended up closer to 30,000.
The president said that more American troops would improve daily life for Iraqis, and would give the Iraqi government "the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas."
On Jan. 11, the president dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace to Capitol Hill to sell the plan.
About the plan, Gates said during a press conference that the surge timetable would give, "ample opportunity early on, and before many of the additional troops actually arrive in Iraq, to evaluate the progress of this endeavor and whether the Iraqis are actually fulfilling their commitments to us."
But that's not what happened. Soon, both the Pentagon and the White House began to downplay the interim reporting on the surge, and insisted on waiting until September to make an assessment.
In early February, the Pentagon unveiled its supplemental budget request for fiscal year 2007 — money that is used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total request was about $100 billion. About $5.5 billion of that was set aside to pay for the "troop surge."
At a news conference back then, Tina Jonas, the Pentagon's deputy comptroller, was asked if there was a reason the Pentagon didn't request funding for the surge beyond the fiscal year.
"I think the secretary has said on the record in the past that this is viewed as a near-term initiative," Jonas answered.
These kinds of answers gave Congress and the American public the impression that the so-called "surge" would only last a few months. And even Secretary Gates left that impression on several occasions in testimony to Congress.
"In our minds we're thinking of it as a matter of months — not 18 months or two years," Gates said during testimony Jan. 11 to the House Armed Services Committee.
But if you take a look at the schedule for troop rotations now, the surge will, in fact, last 18 months.
The turning point, it seems, came April 11 when Secretary Gates walked into the Pentagon briefing room to announce that "effective immediately, active Army units now in the Central Command area of responsibility and those headed there will deploy for not more than 15 months."
And so with a stroke of his pen, Gates' decision meant that the surge, for all intents and purpose, would last through October 2008. Why? Because the last army unit to arrive in Iraq as part of the surge landed in June 2007. Add 15 months and you've reached autumn of 2008.
But even after Gates' April announcement, the Pentagon was cagey about how long the surge would last. And by the time summer rolled around, and some members of Congress were calling for an end to the "surge," the Pentagon put forward military commanders in Iraq, like Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who began to openly push for more time.
"If soldiers were to leave, having fought hard for that terrain, having denied the enemy their sanctuaries," Maj. Gen. Lynch said Aug. 24, "what happens is the enemy would come back, and we would take a giant step backwards."
At end of September, the money for the surge will dry up. Congress must pass another supplemental bill to keep the plan going, and Pentagon sources say Petraeus' testimony to Congress next week is designed to persuade enough members to keep that money flowing.