U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a "post-occupation" troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years.
This goal, drawn from recent interviews with more than 20 U.S. military officers and other officials here, including senior commanders, strategists and analysts, remains in the early planning stages. It is based on officials' assessment that a sharp drawdown of troops is likely to begin by the middle of next year, with roughly two-thirds of the current force of 150,000 moving out by late 2008 or early 2009. The questions officials are grappling with are not whether the U.S. presence will be cut, but how quickly, to what level and to what purpose.
This post-occupation force would be a heavy infantry division, special forces, 'advisers' and support troops totalling 40,000 to 50,000. This is also the force structure that will guarantee that the Iraqi Army will remain a satrapy force.
Not that they need any American help for the Iraqi Army to remain ineffective in conforming to the commands and mission requirements needed to support American objectives. The LA Times is reporting that the Iraqi government forces are shockingly poorly motivated or sectarian militias collecting a second pay check:
Two U.S. generals gave poor marks yesterday to Iraqi security forces for a lack of readiness, assessments that bode ill for Iraq's ability to fend for itself as pressure builds in Washington to draw down U.S. troops...
Speaking of the roughly 194,000-strong national police force, a number often questioned because of a high rate of absenteeism, Dempsey complained that its overwhelmingly Shiite makeup reinforces non-Shiites' image of it as a front for sectarian militias.
"Police have been a handful, but we can't give up on them because for this country to call itself stable, it needs to have civil security," he said.
On June 1, Dempsey said the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, had ousted seven of nine brigade commanders and 14 of 24 battalion commanders because of bad performance.... [nb: Interior Ministry is a SIIC/BADR front]....
Speaking separately, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands a region encompassing four provinces south of Baghdad, said yesterday that about 10 percent of the territory had no Iraqi police whatsoever. "And in many areas where we do have police, we have corrupt police," said Lynch, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
As a result, the U.S. military is planning to establish "provisional police forces" that would arm men affiliated with Sunni tribal sheiks and militant groups who are willing to assist American forces in fighting foreign Islamist militants, Lynch said.
So yes, the US military will be able to declare partial success and reduce their force levels in Iraq by 50% to 70% by the end of 2008... just as they did in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007....