Problems growing in Iraq
Wear and tear on tanks in Iraq is outpacing the Army’s efforts to repair and resupply. The administration is scrambling to find thousands more troops by early next year. Stressed American soldiers suddenly are being given two-week vacations.
Five months into the American occupation of Iraq, there are growing signs that the Bush administration vastly underestimated what it would take to stabilize the country after Baghdad fell in early April.
Pentagon planners had not expected such a large U.S. force, now totaling 130,000 troops, would be required for such a long period — more than a year it now appears, rather than weeks.
They won’t acknowledge the miscalculation publicly, but recent developments make them obvious:
“They planned to pull the troops out quickly,” said Anthony Cordesman, a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. That plan was based on what Cordesman called an illogical assumption that U.S. forces would be greeted almost universally as liberators, that political control could be handed over to Iraqis quickly and that there would be no insurgency.
“We never really had a nation-building plan,” Cordesman said.
Pentagon planners did foresee some post-war difficulties. They were prepared, for example, to deal with a refugee problem, with acute hunger, with a torching of oil fields or with an explosion of ethnic violence — none of which happened.
What they did not fully foresee was the violence aimed at U.S. occupation troops and the other security problems that have hampered the reconstruction efforts and angered many Iraqis.
An early indication that the administration did not foresee a long and violent post-war period was a statement made by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Feb. 27, shortly before the war began.
“It’s not logical to me,” he told reporters, to think it would take as many troops to keep the peace as it would to win the war. The implication was that once Baghdad fell, U.S. forces could begin to draw down as Iraqis took over more of the security duties around the country.
It remains the plan to transfer security and other responsibilities to the Iraqis. But the looting and lawlessness that descended upon parts of Iraq immediately after Saddam Hussein fell — followed by increasingly sophisticated and deadly ambushes of U.S. troops — have prevented any substantial decrease in the number of American troops.