Wednesday, January 12, 2005

More Men on the Ground

Kevin Drum points out that Andrew Sullivan's argument that Rumsfeld starved Iraq of troops founders on the problem of arithmetic. (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

Here's why I ask. Suppose Rumsfeld had agreed with guys like Eric Shinseki and proposed an invasion with more troops. How many could he have called on?  Several months ago I chatted with Phil Carter about this and then did a bit of research on my own, and as near as I can tell the answer is this: if we used every single active combat brigade of the Army and Marines — denuding our forces everywhere in the world to do it — and then filled up every possible National Guard and reserve brigade, we might scrape up about 500,000 troops. ...

Realistically, then, the maximum number of troops available for use in Iraq is probably pretty close to the number we have now: 300,000 rotated annually, for a presence of about 150,000 at any given time. The only way to appreciably increase this is to raise the Army's end strength by several divisions, and this is exactly what Kagan and Sullivan think Rumsfeld has been too stubborn about opposing.

Jason Van Steenwyk at Iraq Now makes a very similar argument, tackling the Fred Kagan article which Andrew Sullivan quotes for support.

Just how many troops does Kagan think it would have taken to guard all these dumps? Assuming, of course, that we could even have known where they were all located. All the Iraqi tribes and clans amassed large ammunition stocks of their own, even under Saddam Hussein. I'm talking about hundreds of mortar shells, artillery shells, landmines, machine guns, and RPGs at a time, which are buried in the back yards of sheikhs and those loyal to them all over the country.

The clans, you see, were very nervous about a civil war, even down to the interclan level within provinces and cities. Saddam Hussein managed to keep a lid on clan v. clan warfare within the Sunni community. But the sheikhs had to plan for after Saddam, too. And they did. It's foolish to suppose that simply forming a ring around the ammunition dumps would have prevented an insurgency. There is no problem getting explosives in Iraq, even without tapping the official government stores.

The heart of Kagan's argument was that the Donald Rumsfeld failed to expand the US ground forces immediately after taking office. With more troops available, Kagan argued, it would have been possible to:

  • Capture or kill thousands of Iraqi soldiers who were at that time still concentrated in combat units and had not yet melted back into the countryside with their weapons and their skills.
  • Guard the scores of enormous ammunition dumps from which the insurgents have drawn the vast majority of their weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
  • Secure critical oil and electrical infrastructure that the insurgents subsequently attacked, setting back the economic and political recovery of Iraq.
  • Prevent the development of insurgent safe havens in Najaf and Falluja, or at least disrupt them at a much earlier stage of formation.
  • Work to interdict the infiltration of foreign fighters across Iraq's borders.

Steenwyk attempts to rebut each of Kagan's arguments point by point, in part based on his own experience in Iraq. The main thrust of his counterargument is that more troops per se would not have made a difference if a purely defensive posture were adopted. And a more effective offense was impossible at the time because of the lack of targeting intelligence and the policy of ignoring Syrian, Iranian and Saudi provocation.

There is no reason of course, why intelligence improvements and changes in policy towards Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot be combined with an increase in available ground forces. Rumsfeld's efforts to reorganize divisions into a larger number of smaller brigades and the reallocation of money from weapons systems like submarines to the ground forces are tacit acknowledgement that the ground forces need to be augmented. So it is not as if Rumsefeld was against more available men in principle. OIF was planned from the outset with more men than were available (the 4th ID did not attack through the Sunni Triangle, thanks to the UN and Turkey) and the OIF rotations have used as many men as were sustainably deployable. A larger ground force implies creating distortions in the "whole spectrum force" capability or a bigger defense budget. It's a political decision at heart and a money decision in particular as are aspects of policy towards Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. It needs to be addressed in the Congress as much as the DOD; and it needs to arise from a national consensus, which the recently concluded Presidential election indicates is slim at best.


Ex-Marine and Iraq veteran Chester says this about military manpower or the lack thereof. He dissects the assertions of Stratfor's George Friedman that the US ground component is a "broken force".

After Viet Nam, the nation's military leadership decided that in the future they did not want to fight another unpopular war. They therefore restructured the US Army such that nearly all of its combat support and combat service support units were transferred to the Reserves. We've heard various figures but for some specialties, close to 90% of the personnel needed for some key support missions are reservists. The thinking on the part of the Army leadership, specifically Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams, was that since any large scale deployment of Army combat forces would require combat service support personnel to be activated, that politicians would be hesitant to commit the Army to a large-scale conflict unless they were sure that it would be supported be an electorate totally fine with watching its citizen soldiers deploy and possibly die. This situation continues today. One reason why such a large number of the Army personnel deployed in iraq are reservists is because there simply are no active-duty troops who do their jobs. ...

Friedman's thesis is thus:

  1. Rumsfeld is correct about the changing nature of war, but wrong about the tempo of the change.
  2. The US needs drastically more troops in Iraq.

Friedman even mentions that the US' personnel policies "have not been radically restructured to take into account either that the U.S. needs a wartime force structure or that that force structure must be congruent with the type and tempo of operations that will be undertaken." But he doesn't quite go the whole nine yards and say what is left unsaid: The US cannot commit more troops to Iraq because it has no more troops to commit. Troops must be cycled and rotated on a manageable schedule. We have maxed that out. Any further increase in troop rotations would leave us strategically vulnerable in other theaters. 150,000 or so at a time is the best we can do.


One of the interesting things about Andrew Sullivan's criticism of operations in Iraq is the nonrecognition of the fact that military means is only partially a function of raw troop numbers. US ground forces are actually smaller than many of the other major powers. Using  these CSIS estimates (West) and CSIS Estimates Asia and CSIS Estimates Middle East as a basis, we have the following figures for world ground forces manpower:

Nation Manpower (thousands)
USA 472
China 1,600
North Korea 950
South Korea 560
India 1,100
Turkey 495
Russia 348
Iran 540
Former Iraq 350

What made US forces comparatively potent compared to these other armies was many of the very things whose advantages have been negated or diluted in the Iraqi campaign: namely, strategic mobility, supporting fires, the control of air and space and targeting systems. The US was never going to win the "numbers game" if it could not compensate for it in other ways with which it provided itself for conventional battlefield. But the kinds of capabilities it needs to restore its comparatively few numbers to a dominant position in Iraq are things like HUMINT, language capabilities and robotic systems. Without these capabilities, simply adding more troops can bring some relief, but never a decisive access in strength.

To a large extent the development of US HUMINT and language capabilities hinges on the development of Iraqi forces and the retention of experienced soldiers into the US Armed Forces. The creation of a new Iraqi state always had an implicit military dimension, a fact of which the insurgents have always been cognizant but of which many US commentators have been dismissive. Many of the 'transformational' efforts reported in the press, such as training programs for Iraqi security forces, the 'flattening' of US Army formations by breaking them up into smaller independent units, the rotation of the same units back into Iraq, the development of unmanned aerial and ground vehicles -- and the elections -- especially the elections are part of the effort to increase the military means. That's not to say that simply adding more troops will not ipso facto help, but it is only one factor in the equation and the one bounded by the harshest constraints.

Update 2

Parapundit reviews the presentation of Howard Hart, a former CIA clandestine operative who has little patience for Porter Goss, but less for the agency for which he once worked.

Howard Hart, former CIA clandestine service officer, said on C-SPAN 2 that there are far far fewer clandestine service officers serving abroad than there are faculty members at the University of Virginia. He also said there are fewer than there are FBI agents serving at the FBI NYC office. He was speaking at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at University of Virginia on Dec. 3, 2004 for a seminar entitled Futre of CIA Espionage Operations. Hart expects many more countries to develop nuclear weapons in the future. Hart says it is extremely difficult to recruit people into the clandestine service of the CIA. It is hard to reach them to recruit them in the first place. The universities with the highest concentrations of talent are hostile toward the CIA.

CIA's intake of junior officers every year is low. 1995: 25 junior trainee case officers for the year. More died that year. Same happened during the Carter Administration. He said Stansfield Turner, DCI under Carter, was a disaster. He said it wasn't until the Iranian embassy seizure that Carter realized the world is full of bad people and that the CIA needed the capability to defend against those bad people.

More than half a century ago military analysts played the numbers game between formations of dissimilar capabilities and types. During World War 2, a battleship was rated the 'equivalent' of an Army Corps (2 divisions). Some more recent equivalences used by military accountants would be ground forces division=carrier battlegroup=airforce air wing, but these are more notional than actual. No one would dream of using the one in place of the other. Part of the problem with arguing, as Kagan and Sullivan do, that X number of troops should have been deployed to Iraq instead of Y number is that sheer troop numbers are not a good numaire or yardstick for what one really wants to measure, which is capability. Howard Hart's recital of the sheer paucity of American clandestine agents raises the question of what the real constraining factors of battlefield dominance are. There is probably more than enough conventional military firepower in Iraq to incinerate any conceivable target. Even during the second battle for Fallujah, the calls on artillery and air did not stretch their capabilities. But where these fires are to be directed or raids are to be launched is a function of actionable intelligence. And that -- as Howard Hart suggests -- may be constrained in some ways.