New strategy needed to bring troops home from Iraq
Six years after 9/11, the general in charge of U.S. troops in Iraq says he is unable to project when a stable and secure government will be attained.
IN the days following the suicide airplane bombings of the United States six years ago, President Bush referred to "acts of war," and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke of "a new battlefield." Little mention was made of terrorism at yesterday's long-awaited congressional testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, who referred questions about worldwide terrorism to other generals. The main characteristic shared by the two wars seems to be that both are expected to continue indefinitely.
"Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous," Petraeus told a House hearing yesterday. He claimed that the Iraqi battlefield is part of the war against terrorism, because an arm of the al-Qaida organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attack has become involved in the war.
One-third of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a new CBS News-New York Times poll. That was President Bush's claim when he ordered the attack on Iraq in March 2003, but he was wrong, which 58 percent of Americans -- including Bush -- now understand.
"The general's remarks from the military point of view is that we are making progress but the Iraqis are not ready to take over," Rep. Neil Abercrombie said at the hearing. According to those and statements by Petraeus' predecessors, he added, the same has been true almost since the day the U.S. invaded Iraq.
"The problem is that four years later the number of U.S. troops being killed continues to climb, thousands more Iraqis are dead, the cost of war continues to escalate and the refugees continue to stream out of Iraq," Abercrombie added. He noted that 740 U.S. troops were killed in the first eight months of this year, compared with 462 fatalities from January through August of last year.
Another problem is that a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops would let loose what Petraeus called "centrifugal forces" resulting in even bloodier chaos. The general said plans are to withdraw 30,000 troops by next summer, but that would merely return U.S. forces to 130,000, the level that existed before the current surge began. He suggested no further foreseeable withdrawals.
Most proponents of withdrawing U.S. forces concede that an orderly redeployment would take more than a year. Such a plan would have to include a change of strategy, requiring the Iraqi government to take steps toward establishing a stable and secure country.
Petraeus said each of Iraq's provinces has been given a "projected time frame" for achieving security, but those projections are classified and are merely expectations that can be changed. "Sometimes the dates have slipped," he said. Meaningful benchmarks are needed to achieve the level of security allowing U.S. troops to come home.