Casey Explains Troop Reduction Rationale
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Dec. 23, 2005 Two U.S. brigades will not deploy to Iraq as originally planned, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq said here today.
Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said President Bush has accepted his recommendation that the number of American forces in Iraq drop over the coming months.
Progress with the Iraqi security forces means the number of American brigades in Iraq can drop from 17 to 15. The 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, will remain at Fort Riley, Kan., and the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, will deploy to Kuwait rather than to Iraq, to be ready if needed. The 2nd Brigade is based in Baumholder, Germany.
"It's a call-forward force," Casey said during a meeting with reporters. "It's a hedge against the uncertainty of the next few months."
Casey said he might recommend further reductions in the spring. The reduction will bring the level of U.S. troops in Iraq down to below the 138,000-man baseline that was in place before the coalition bulked up for the election. "(The number) will settle out at about 130,000," Casey said.
The reduction is a result of the progress in Iraq, he said. In the past year there have been three elections, and in each case participation climbed while violence dropped, Casey said.
Iraqi security forces handled the elections, and many are in the lead in the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq. "It's a demonstration that the strategy we've been working on - to basically bring the insurgency to levels that can be contained by increasingly capable Iraqis - is kicking in," the general said.
Casey said the process will be "measured and gradual" and will play out over the next year or two.
Coalition forces will continue to provide support for Iraqi troops as necessary. Transportation, medical evacuation, logistics and maintenance support will continue, but efforts will go in to developing those capabilities in Iraqi forces and at the Ministry of Defense, Casey said.
Military transition teams and special police transition teams will continue to work with Iraqi units. "All the new Iraqi units will continue to have transition teams assigned to them," he said. "We are also in 2006 going to enhance our police partnership. While we've had transition teams with the special police, we haven't partnered with them. We're going to do that now."
The number of attacks in Iraq has dropped, and that figured into the troop level calculus, Casey said. Operations along the western border of Iraq and those in the western Euphrates River valley have had "a real positive impact" on stopping suicide bombers or money or equipment from coming into the country.
Casey said more than 60 suicide bombings occurred in June. In November, that number dropped to 26. "It's clearly much harder for them to get foreign fighters from the Syrian border and get them into Iraq," he said.
Casey said that all of those factors figured in to influence his recommendation to the president. He said he feels confident that his command can handle the mission with fewer troops.
"As I've said before this is not a conventional war, and in this type of war that we're fighting, more is not necessarily better," he said. "In fact, in Iraq, less coalition at this point in time, is better. Less is better because it doesn't feed the notion of occupation, it doesn't work the culture of dependency, it doesn't lengthen the time for Iraqi forces to be self-reliant, and it doesn't expose coalition forces to risk when there are Iraqi forces who are capable of standing up and doing it."
Casey said that if the situation changes and he needs more forces, he will ask for them.