Where are the brigades?

Just saw this over at Steve Gilliard’s blog, from the Guardian:

Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers. This figure is far fewer than that called for by the Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain. But by raising troop levels, Mr Bush will draw a line in the sand and defy Democratic pressure for a swift drawdown.

The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.

20,000 more US troops to Baghdad are a drop in the bucket. Assuming Baghdad’s population is 5.8 million people, that is an increase in the counterinsurgent force of 3.5 counterinsurgents/thousand residents. When I first wrote about Operation Forward Together, the counterinsurgent ratio of the planned for force was roughly 13 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents. This number was predicated upon the designated Iraqi Army and police units actually showing up for duty. They did not do that.

So as we see unicorns prance down Haifa Street, and the Iraqi Army shows up as a combat ready and loyal to a unified, non-sectarian national government in Baghdad, the maximum counterinsurgent ratio, even with this one last surge is roughly 16.5 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents. That sounds like a lot. But it is not. The US Army has repeatedly noted that stability operations, which are less manpower intensive than active counter-insurgeny operations, need a higher force ratio. The British were able to put down the Malay Insurgency and the IRA with force ratios approaching 20 counter insurgents per 1,000 population. So I believe an extra three or four brigades for a one year tour in Baghdad will just be exposing 20,000 more US soldiers to a high risk of death, permanent injury and PTSD without any relevant probability of success.

More pragmatically, the relevant question is where do these three or four brigades come from? General Pace recently made some comments about the desired force posture for the US military:

Pace said the benchmark he’d like to see on the active force is a one-year deployment, followed by two years at home station before deploying again. For Guardsmen and reservists, the ideal would be five years at home between one-year deployments, he said.

Efforts under way are helping make this goal achievable,………

These initiatives will provide 18 to 19 Army brigades, as well as one or two Marine regimental combat brigades, ready to deploy at any given time. Pace said this would ensure “a sustainable tempo” for troops that matches his deployment benchmarks.

The problem for now, he said, is that current operations require 25 brigade-size units at a time.

There is a deviation between reality of a fifteen brigade force in Iraq today, along with Afghanistan, former Yugoslavia, Korea and other committments and what the force structure can deliver. More importantly, we are currently in a local minimum for force availiabilty. National Guard units were heavily used in 2004 and 2005 to provide some breathing room for the active duty formations. These National Guard units should not be available for another two to three years. The activte duty forces are shouldering the vast majority of the combat load right now.

The deviation from desired and actual availability of forces is being addressed in a couple of different ways. The most public is the extension of two extra brigades to spend fifteen or sixteen months in Iraq to provide some surge capacity. The more common, but slightly quieter method that the Pentagon is using to find extra brigades is to dramatically reduce ‘dwell’ time. Units get home from Iraq, send their equipment to the depots for maitenance, go on leave, and then get ready to go back to Iraq a year later now. Finally, the National Guard is being prepared to send at least four combat brigades back to Iraq at least one year earlier than these units had anticipated. The Marine Corps Reserve is also being asked to send combat units back to Iraq for a second combat tour. These steps are being taken because there are no uncommitted and rested combat formations available.

These extraordinary measures are being taken on the assumption that the baseline force is roughly fifteen brigade equivilants with the occassional short term deviation. Finding three or four brigades for the LAST BIG PUSH [h/t Kevin Drum] is fantastical at best. These units can be found in the following manner:

  1. Extend the tours of four or five brigades for an extra six months while moving their replacements in on time or a little ahead of schedule.
  2. Crunch the dwell time of all active duty US based formations to less than 1 year, and send these tired units back to Iraq.
  3. Mobilize four or more additional National Guard brigades beyond the four that have already been notified for early deployments. This means National Guard units will have only thirty to thirty-six months of rest between deployments.
  4. Drawdown the end strength in Afghanistan or extend current units tours by six to twelve months. Then shift the units slotted as replacements for Afghanistan to go to Iraq.
  5. Pull out of Yugoslavia entirely and send the 1.5 low tier National Guard brigades that are commited to that mission to Iraq.
  6. Pray for unicorns.

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