Monday, September 15, 2008

Victory Changes the Equation

One of the reasons that we have aruged over the timing and pace of troop withdrawals from Iraq is the desire to end our casualties. But this motivation assumes high levels of combat and much higer casualties than we have endured this year.

As we have defeated (but not eliminated) our enemies inside Iraq, Secretary Gates and LTG Austin in Iraq highlight our Army's and Marine Corps' new role:

We are clearly in a mission transition," he told reporters on an overnight flight here from Washington.

U.S. troops will increasingly play a backup role, Gates said, as Iraqi security forces take on more of the responsibility for fighting an insurgency that has lost much of its power and influence over the past year.

"The areas in which we are seriously engaged (in fighting) will, I think, continue to narrow," Gates said.

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, told reporters later at the main U.S. military headquarters outside Baghdad that he remains optimistic that the trend of improving security will continue. He said key measures of security have improved about 80 percent over one year ago; while "there is a degree of fragility" to the situation, he said, it is "somewhat less" fragile that just a few months ago.

With lower casualties, the stress on our miltary drops dramatically even without increasing dwell time. Being deployed to Iraq comes to be more like deploying to any other place where we stand in the world--unpleasant but not particularly dangerous. As more progress is made--like local elections legislation as the article notes--the situation will be less fragile and we can risk reducing forces in Iraq and not just direct combat roles in the streets of Iraq's cities.

Remember, the fear that we were losing (or the conviction we were destined to lose, and even a desire to lose, for some) drove the pressure to get out of Iraq, in order to halt our casualties.

Now that we are clearly winning, the very basis for advocating a rapid withdrawal has ended. We should now be judging the timing and pace of withdrawal as they affect our accumulating victory.

UPDATE: Not that combat and casualties are a thing of the past for our forces in Iraq, of course:

Senior U.S. commanders see their small combat outposts scattered around Mosul as the centerpiece of a strategy designed to reduce insurgent violence by having troops live within the community and gather better intelligence. Platoons rotate into the outposts on stints of several days from a large base at the city's airport. ...

"I think the (American) people think the war is over," [SSG] Carter said. "But they don't realize the amount of contact that we receive out here."

Not over everywhere. And not over all the time. But far better than even a year ago as the enemy showed signs of breaking.