July 14, 2005

A Glimpse into U.S. Strategic Thinking

The Mail Memo: A Glimpse into U.S. Strategic Thinking

By George Friedman

The Mail on Sunday, a British newspaper, recently published a memo that editors claimed had been leaked by a British official. The document, titled "Options for future UK force posture in Iraq" is dated 9 July 2005 and is marked "Secret-UK Eyes Only." The document was a working paper prepared for the Cabinet. What makes the memo extraordinarily important is that it contains a discussion of a substantial drawdown of British and American troops in Iraq, beginning in early 2006. Given the July 7 bombings in London, the memo has not attracted as much notice as normally would be expected. That is unfortunate because, if genuine, it provides a glimpse into U.S. strategic thinking and indicates a break point in the war.

It is always difficult to know whether documents such as this are genuine. In Britain, a steady trickle of classified documents has been leaked to the press during the past month, all of which appear to have been validated as authentic. That means that the idea of a classified document on this subject being leaked to the press is far from unprecedented. There has been ample time for Prime Minister Tony Blair or his government to deny the story, but they haven't. Finally, the document coheres with our analysis of the current situation on the ground in Iraq and the thinking in Washington. It makes sense. That's certainly the most dangerous way to validate a document; nevertheless, with the other indicators, we are comfortable with its authenticity.

The document printed by the Mail contains the following lines:

Emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall MNF-I from 176,000 down to 66,000.

There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers, and MNF-I whose approach is more cautious.

The next MNF-I review of campaign progress due in late June may help clarify thinking and provide an agreed framework for the way ahead.

According to this document, the strategic view of the United States is that the insurrection in Iraq either never existed or has been brought under control in most of the country. Therefore, security in these areas can be turned over to Iraqis -- and, in some cases, already has been turned over. The memo states that the insurrection has not been brought under control in four provinces -- obviously, the hard-core Sunni provinces in central Iraq. Given this strategic reality, the MNF-I (Multinational Force-Iraq) could be reduced from 176,000 to 66,000. The implication here is that the reductions would begin in early 2006 and proceed through the year.

The memo also says there is a debate going on between the Pentagon and Central Command on the one side, and the command in Iraq on the other. The Iraq command feels that withdrawal would be premature. They logically want more boots on the ground for a longer period of time, because they are responsible for the reality in Iraq. The Pentagon, CENTCOM and, by implication, the White House, see, from a distance, a more hopeful situation. Therefore, a debate has broken out between the most senior command and the theater command. The report appears to have been written in the spring, as it speaks of a review by MNF-I in June. Certainly, no fundamental shift in the reality has taken place since then, and it would be reasonable to assume that the same intentions hold -- and that the command in Iraq still has serious reservations but that the president and secretary of defense probably have a good chance of prevailing.

It has been our view that the White House is not kidding when officials say they are optimistic about the situation in Iraq. What they see is a containment of the insurgency to a relatively small area of Iraq. They also see the guerrillas as split by inducements to the Sunni leadership to join the political process. The White House does not believe it has the situation under control in the four provinces, and the memo is quite frank in saying that Iraqi forces will not be able to take over security there. Nevertheless, the total number of troops needed to attempt to control the insurrection in those provinces is a small subset of the total number of forces deployed right now.

Behind this optimistic forecast, which appears reasonable to us, there lurks a more gloomy reality. The United States simply doesn't have the troops to maintain this level of commitment. The United States is rotating divisions in on a one-year-on, one-year-off basis. The ranks of the National Guard and reserves -- which, by the way, make up an increasingly large proportion of the active force -- are particularly thin, as commitments run out and older men and women with families choose not to re-enlist. Another couple of years of this, and the ranks of the regular forces would start emptying out.

Even more serious, the United States does not have the ability to deal with other crises. Within the geopolitical system, Washington reacts to crises. But should another theater of operations open up, the country would not have forces needed to deploy. Washington has acknowledged this by dropping the two-war doctrine, which argues that the United States should be able to fight two Iraq-size wars simultaneously. That doctrine has been fiction for a long time, but this is more than just a Pentagon debate over the obvious. No one would have imagined in the summer of 2001 that U.S. forces would be fighting a war in Afghanistan, and be deployed in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. The United States fights not only with the army it has, but in the theaters that geopolitics gives it.

The fact is that the United States bit off more than it could chew militarily in Iraq. The administration did not anticipate the length and size of the deployment and took no steps to expand the force. That means that at the current level of commitment, the United States would be wide open elsewhere if a major war were to break out. The problem is not only troops -- although that isn't a trivial problem. The problem is the logistical support system, which has been strained to the limits supporting forces in Iraq. Many of the anecdotal failures, such as the lack of armoring for Hummers, happen in all wars. But the frequency of the problems and the length of time it took to fix them point out the fact that the pipe from the factory to the battlefield in Iraq was not sufficiently robust. Supporting two widely separated, large-scale operations would have been beyond U.S. ability.

That fact is of overriding concern to the United States. U.S. grand strategy assumes that the United States is capable of projecting force into Eurasia, as a deterrent to regional hegemons. At this point, that capability simply doesn't exist. The United States can sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe squeeze out a few brigades for operations elsewhere -- but that's all she wrote.

That puts the United States in the most dangerous position it has been in since before World War II. During Korea and Vietnam, the United States was able to deploy a substantial force in Europe as well as capabilities in the continental United States. Iraq, a smaller war than Vietnam, has, along with Afghanistan, essentially absorbed U.S. force projection capability. It cannot deploy a multi-divisional force elsewhere should it be needed. Should the unexpected happen in Asia or Europe, the United States would lack military and therefore diplomatic options.

The reason for this is not solely the Bush administration. The forces created during the 1990s were predicated on assumptions that proved not to be true. It was assumed that operations other than war, or peacekeeping operations, would be the dominant type of action. Multi-divisional, multi-theater operations were not anticipated. The force was shaped to reflect this belief.

The manner in which Bush chose to fight the war against the jihadists involved the invasion of Iraq using a conventional, multi-divisional thrust. The Bush administration took a calculated risk that this concentration of force could deal with the Iraq situation before another theater opened up. So far, the administration has been lucky. Despite having miscalculated the length of time of the war, no other theater except Afghanistan has become active enough to require forces to deploy.

But a lucky gambler should not stay at the table indefinitely. What the Mail memo is saying is that the administration is going to take some chips off the table in 2006 -- more than 100,000 chips. The importance of the drawdown is that it will allow the force some rest. But it still assumes that there will be no threats in Eurasia that the United States would have to respond to until 2007 at the earliest, and ideally not before 2008. That may be true, but given the history of the second half of the twentieth century, it is pushing the odds.

The strategic analysis about Iraq may well be sound. However, the MNF-I is fighting the drawdowns because it knows how fragile the political situation behind this analysis is. The debate will be framed in terms of the conditions in Iraq. But that is not, in our view, the primary driver behind plans for withdrawal. The driver is this: The United States simply cannot sustain the level of commitment it has made in Iraq without stripping itself of force-projection capabilities.

Given the fact that it is now obvious that the Bush administration is not going to undertake a substantial military buildup, it really has only two choices: Maintain its current posture and hope for the best, or draw down the forces in Iraq and hope for the best. The Iraq command, viewing Iraq, has chosen the first course. The Pentagon, looking at the world, is looking at the second. There are dangers inherent in both, but at this point, Iraq is becoming the lesser threat.
Send questions or comments on this article to analysis@stratfor.com.

Options for future UK force posture in Iraq

Paper by Secretary of State SECRET - UK EYES ONLY


We will need to reach decisions later this year on likely future UK force structure and disposition in Iraq into 2006.

This paper sets out some of the key contextual considerations; identifies areas of uncertainty; sets out what we know of US planning and possible expectations on the UK contribution; and assesses the potential impact on UK decision making.

2. Decisions on coalition, and within that, UK force levels will be governed by four factors, all of which are subject to a greater or lesser degree of uncertainty:
* Internal Iraqi pressure for further force posture changes.
* Successful progress in the potential process and extension/renewal of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546. (Mail on Sunday footnote 1)
* The continued development of the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
* The security situation.

3. None of this, however, undermines the Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) (Mail on Sunday footnote 2)broad security strategy of:
a) Working with the Iraqis to contain and restrain the insurgency.
b) Assisting and encouraging the development of Iraqi security forces and structures which can progressively assume responsibility for all aspects of security including dealing with the insurgency, and thereby:
c) Enable MNF-I force reductions and eventual withdrawal.


US political military thinking is still evolving. But there is a strong US military desire for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall US commitment levels.

Emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall MNF-I from 176,000 down to 66,000.

There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom (Mail on Sunday footnote 3) who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers, and MNF-I whose approach is more cautious.

The next MNF-I review of campaign progress due in late June may help clarify thinking and provide an agreed framework for the way ahead.

5. (Technical details)


The current ministerially endorsed policy position is that the UK should not:
a) Agree to any changes to the UK area of responsibility.
b) Agree to any specific deployments outside Multinational Division South East. (Mail on Sunday footnote 4)
c) Agree to any specific increases in the roughly 8,500 UK service personnel currently deployed in Iraq.

7. Looking further ahead, we have a clear UK military aspiration to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces (Mail on Sunday footnote 5) in October 2005 and in the other two Multinational Division South East provinces, Dhi Qar and Basra (Mail on Sunday footnote 6) in April 2006.

This in turn should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel, ie small scale, by mid 2006.

This should lead to an estimated halving in the costs which fall to the reserve, (Mail on Sunday footnote 7) around £1 billion per annum currently. Though it is not clear exactly when this reduction might manifest itself, it would not be before around the end of 2006.

8. None of this however, represents a ministerially endorsed plan. There is a good deal more military analysis to do which is under way. We will need to consider handling of other MND SE allies.

The Japanese reconstruction battalion (Mail on Sunday footnote 8)will for example be reluctant to stay in Al Muthanna if force protection is solely provided by the Iraqis. The Australian position, which is highly influenced by the Japanese presence, may also be uncertain. (Mail on Sunday footnote 9)


I will bring further and more specific proposals to DOP-I (Mail on Sunday footnote 10) for the future UK force posture in Iraq, including handover to Iraqi control and subsequent UK military drawdown.

John Reid.

Mail on Sunday footnotes

Footnote 1:(UN resolution authorising allied troops presence in Iraq)
Footnote 2: (The Multinational Force of Allied troops in Iraq)
Footnote 3: (Centcom is the US military command centre in the US)
Footnote 4: (Not get involved in operations outside area around Basra under UK control)
Footnote 5: (two of the four provinces around Basra in UK control)
Footnote 6: (the other two UK run provinces)
Footnote 7: (The UK Treasury Reserve)
Footnote 8: (Japan has 550 engineers in UK area of Iraq)
Footnote 9: (Australia has 1,400 troops in Iraq ,whose main job is to protect the Japanese)
Footnote 10: (The Defence and Overseas Policy, Iraq sub committee of the Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister)

Analysis: Secret memo has pullout plan

By Roland Flamini
UPI Chief International Correspondent
Published July 11, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Three days after the multiple bombing attacks in London a leaked secret document reveals that the British government is considering withdrawing troops from Iraq by the mid-2006. The Ministry of Defense said Monday the "Secret-Eyes Only" report was "just a discussion paper" and did not mean that there were actual plans for pulling out. But did the timing of the leak have any significance?

The Defense Ministry confirmed the authenticity of the document -- which is undated -- but at the same time tried to quash any notion that the government was sending a message to the Islamist terrorists that their demand for a troop pullout from Iraq was being met thus warding off further bomb attacks. The report was one of a number of option papers on the Iraq situation and the British role in it, the ministry was quoted as saying. Drawn up by Martin Howard, the ministry's director-general of policy planning and signed by Defense Secretary John Reid, it said troop strength would be cut from the current level of 8,500 to 3,000 by 2006. The London Times speculated Monday that the senior status of the author, combined with the fact that the report was signed by the Defense Secretary, "would suggest that the prospects of a troop withdrawal next year is now likely."

The group calling itself The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe that claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombings in London, saying the attacks were retaliation for Britain's involvement in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was hitherto unknown. But no one has challenged the general assumption that the attack was the work of an al-Qaida fringe organization.

Presumably, Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair's government wanted to avoid becoming the target of the kind of criticism it had itself leveled against Spain for pulling out it's troops from Iraq in the wake of the March 11, 2004 attack on commuter trains at Madrid's Atocha station. At the time the Spanish electorate had come under fire for dumping the ruling conservatives and electing a socialist government in an apparent post-attack panic in the national elections three days later, believing that the socialists would be more conciliatory towards the terrorists. In reality, pre-election polls showed that the conservatives had lost ground to the socialists anyway.

The Bush administration was even more scornful of the Spanish withdrawal, and has made no secret of its refusal to have any personal dealings with Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. But Prime Minister Tony Blair is not likely to suffer the same fate: The same leaked British report reveals a "strong U.S. military desire" to cut back U.S. forces in Iraq from 138,000 to 66,000. The pullout was predicated on the Iraqi armed forces and police being able to take effective control of 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces by early 2006 -- a target that seems unattainable to most experts.

In the past both Blair and President George Bush have refused to set a withdrawal date. Both have said their respective forces will remain in Iraq until the job of democratizing Iraq is completed. The secret document is the first time that a time frame for significant force reductions has been revealed.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi whose country may be the next terrorist target last weekend repeated earlier indications that Italy would begin its own troop withdrawals from Iraq in September. The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe warned in its statement that Italy and Denmark could be the next terrorist targets. Italy has around 3,000 troops deployed in Iraq, and Denmark about 500. Berlusconi denied that the London bombings had conditioned his decision on the pullout; but he conceded that, "after New York, Madrid, and London, Italy represents the most probable next objective of the terrorists. The time has come to think about our house, and to use the same resources currently committed in Iraq to prevent and combat possible attacks in our country."

Over the weekend, the Rome government discussed virtually round the clock measures for strengthening security, particularly in the major cities. Rome, Milan and Turin have extensive metro services used daily by millions of commuters. All three cities also have large Islamic communities, particularly Milan. Security around the chalet in the Aosta Valley, where Pope Benedict XVI is spending a two-week vacation in the Italian Alps has also been beefed up, and the air space overhead declared out of bounds.

European intelligence sources are shaken by their British counterparts' failure to detect the London attacks, according to an Italian diplomatic source in Washington. In Europe, the British intelligence service has a reputation for good information, partly because of its special relationship with the CIA, and also good penetration. The Europeans are contrasting the apparent lack of progress in the British investigation with the swift work of the Spanish authorities following the Madrid terrorist bombing that claimed 190 lives and injured 1,500. But the Spanish police had an early break when they investigated a parked truck in a Madrid suburb and found a copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, and explosives. A month later, police raided an apartment in another suburb of the capital and exchanged fire with what they identified as a terrorist group linked to the attack. Some of the militants -- mostly Moroccans -- were arrested but others died when the apartment blew up. If the British have had a similar breakthrough they are keeping quiet about it.

Like the Spain, Italy and Britain are expected to re-direct troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to strengthen the NATO force there. So al-Qaida's success will be only partial. But the reduction of the terrorist threat will be nil.

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