ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris with a central question in the debate over Iraq right now, should there be more or fewer American troops there?
The White House maintains that troop levels are appropriate for current conditions. Others, most prominently Arizona Senator John McCain, say there's a need for more. He made these comments on a visit to Baghdad today.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I believe that there's still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar Province in order to bring this situation under control, in order that the political process may proceed.
NORRIS: There is a new report today that is mostly in line with Senator McCain's view. It's from Frederick Kagan. He's a retired West Point historian, currently a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington. Kagan, with help from several retired generals, argues that troop levels in Iraq must be increased, and he says it's not just about the numbers.
Mr. FREDERICK KAGAN (American Enterprise Institute): The key thing here is that we need to have a fundamental change in American strategy. So far, throughout this war, it has never been the objective of the American military forces in Iraq to establish security for the Iraqi population as a matter of priority. We think that is the main reason why we're having the trouble that we're having today, and therefore we've developed this report to look into what we think the troop requirement would be actually to establish security in the critical areas of Baghdad.
We've come to the conclusion that we probably need an increase of about four additional brigades in Baghdad. We're proposing also to put two additional Marine regimental combat teams in al-Anbar Province. And we've also looked very hard at the question of whether the Army and the Marine Corps could actually sustain this increased deployment for as long as would be necessary. We believe that they could. It would require deploying a few units a few weeks early and it would require extending tours for the Army and the Marine units that are there.
NORRIS: So you're deemphasizing training and instead calling for a surge in strength in Iraq. Help us to understand the numbers. When you talk about the four additional teams in Baghdad, the two additional teams in Anbar, how many additional troops are we actually talking about?
Mr. KAGAN: We're talking about probably on the order of 20,000 additional combat troops into Baghdad and 7,000 or 8,000 additional troops into Anbar, you could get the total number of additional troops in Baghdad up to 30,000 or even 35,000 if the commander on the scene thought that that was necessary.
But let me just say, this is not a matter of deemphasizing training. What we're saying is, leave the training programs that we have in place in place. If it's possible to beef them up a little bit, that's fine. But that's not going to be enough. And so we're trying to talk to the problem of creating sufficient security so that the training programs will have time to take effect and allow us to get to where everyone wants to get to, which is a stable Iraq where the security is maintained by its own forces.
NORRIS: This is not the first time that the military has tried to bring Baghdad under control. Operation Together Forward over the summer and the fall was not necessarily a resounding success. What would the military do in this case?
Mr. KAGAN: Well, if you look at Together Forward, and Together Forward occurred in two phases, there were two fundamental things wrong with it. First of all, they sent in a tiny, tiny surge. The first phase of Together Forward saw a surge of two brigades, which is about 7,000 troops.
The second phase, the one that kicked off in August and that has, you know, gone on until it sort of petered out now, brought in a surge of only one brigade, about 3,500 troops.
We're proposing to bring in substantially more than that in order to deal with the second problem that those operations had, namely that they did not have plans for American soldiers to stay behind in the neighborhoods that they had cleared. And so we went through and we cleared these neighborhoods and we actually did a pretty good job, but then as the units where we didn't have enough troops to stay in the neighborhoods and they weren't planned to, the units would roll onto the next neighborhood. Then the bad guys would come back and they'd start victimizing the people whose neighborhoods we'd cleared.
So what we're proposing to do is to send enough forces into Baghdad so that after we've cleared these neighborhoods, we can actually stay there, hold them, and allow those neighborhoods to begin to develop, give time for the Iraqi security forces to complete their training so that there is never this situation where we clear, leave and then the enemy comes back in and terrorizes the population once again.
NORRIS: Now we hear that some generals on the ground in Iraq and some colonels at the Pentagon are advocating this surge in strength, but we also understand that the joint chiefs are concerned about how this will affect the overall force. Are you in danger of breaking the force or pushing them to or even past the breaking point?
Mr. KAGAN: I'm very concerned about the force. What I'm most of all concerned about is what defeat will do to them. And I think that these discussions about breaking the force don't factor that in adequately. Defeat in Iraq is going to be horrible. Especially if we go down the path that we're going down right now. You're going to have our forces pulling out under fire. The situation is going to explode behind them. You're going to see massive sectarian cleansing.
If you think about it on a human level, our troops have been in these neighborhoods. They've been working with local leaders. They've been trying to defend the community. They've been trying to do good things for the Iraqis. As they start packing up to leave, the enemy - because there's an enemy in this equation, we sometimes let that drop out - the enemy's going to come in and he's going to start victimizing the people that they've been protecting.
I don't think there's anything that we could do that will break the Army and the Marines in terms of destroying morale than the defeat scenarios that seem likeliest to me. And so although I recognize that this is a plan that's going to place greater stress on the force and is going to require more sacrifice, I think that in the long run, this is the only hope that we have to avoid breaking the force.
NORRIS: Is there a chasm between the leadership in the Pentagon and the generals on the ground about how to move forward in Iraq?
Mr. KAGAN: Well, I haven't seen a lot of space in terms of recommendations between what John Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, and General Casey, the multinational forces Iraq commander, have been saying. He's fighting the war that he wants to fight, as far as I can see.
So I think there's a chasm between what he thinks is going on and should be going on and what lower level officers who are actually on the street in Baghdad who've I've been in contact with think should be going on. But the guy in charge of the war is fighting the war that he wants right now, and I think the problem is that it's not the right war.
NORRIS: It sounds like you're saying the leadership on the ground in Iraq is not necessarily in step with General Casey. What are you hearing from them?
Mr. KAGAN: The young men and women that I talk to who are lieutenants, captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels over there think that we need to be securing the Iraqi population and they don't think the training is going to do it. You know, they walk through these neighborhoods. They know the difference that they could be making. And you know, when you're actually providing security to people, it's a tremendously rewarding activity. When you're driving through their neighborhoods and looking at them, at their very sad faces as you move on, then that's not a very rewarding activity.
So we've got ourselves in a situation where the young men and women who are actually on the ground, a lot of them are very frustrated because they can't do what they think is necessary to succeed here. And I think that General Casey is pursuing an idea about how things should be working, which really doesn't correlate with what's happening on the ground.
NORRIS: Frederick Kagan, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. KAGAN: Pleasure to talk to you.
NORRIS: Frederick Kagan is a former West Point historian and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
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