US draws down forces as Iraqis stand up security forces
The plan for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to take over Iraq security is directly linked to the US plan to draw down forces and as briefed by General Petraeus in September 2007. For military planners, there are natural decision points for when to reduce forces based on the rotation schedule of US forces. These semi-annual decision points are September for drawdowns to be completed by January, and March for drawdowns to be completed by July. The drawdown schedule is not a hard and fast schedule. At each of these points the option to delay exists if the situation on the ground warrants it.
Reduction from 20 to 15 combat brigades.
Multinational Forces Iraq completed the drawdown from 20 to 15 combat brigades in July 2008. This reduction of the US surge forces was facilitated by The Real Surge. The Real Surge started with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's plan to expand the Iraqi Army (IA) by three divisions. A minimum of 12 to 18 months is required to build a new unit; much more time is needed for more technical units, such as armor and artillery.
The US surge of five combat brigades in 2007 covered for the Iraqi Army shortages in forces while they were being trained and equipped. Two of the three additional Iraqi Army divisions are operational. They are the replacements for the US surge, 24 brigades have been added. This Real Surge in Iraqi Security Forces training and expansion has facilitated the reduction of coalition forces, but does not eliminate the need for them. Major components such as artillery, engineers, EOD, and armor are still in training or planning. The Iraqi Army can execute major internal security operations, however, it is not capable of defending against external threats.
Reduction from 15 to 12 brigades.
The decision to draw down forces will be made by September 2008 so that the drawdown can be completed by January 2009. There are already signs the US and Iraq are preparing for this drawdown. The Iraqi Army is beginning to absorb at least two Kurdish Divisions. The 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division in south Baghdad is already planning to turn over its battle space to the newly forming 17th Commando Division. The Marines in Anbar are looking at reducing to a Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division is already preparing for Afghanistan instead of the originally announced Iraq deployment.
These reductions are being facilitated by the expanding the Iraqi Army and Iraqi National Police (INP). The Iraqi Army, which consisted of 10 divisions organized into 36 brigades in 2006, now consists of 16 divisions with 60 brigades and is still expanding. One-third of the current Iraqi Army did not exist two years ago.
The INP is absorbing the provincial Emergency Response Brigades and forming a 3rd Division in preparation for assuming the primary role of internal security. This will allow the Iraqi Army to start training and equipping for conventional external threats. Most of July's planned Iraqi arms purchases are intended for the conversion of the army to its primary role of defending against external threats. The Iraqi Army currently is working on its supply and engineering as well as filling out existing forces. Half of US combat brigades are planned to be partnered or leading operations. Most of the other six brigades have already moved to overwatch duties.
Reduction from 12 to 10 brigades.
The decision to draw down forces will be made by March 2009 so that the drawdown can be completed by July 2009. The reports of negotiations for US forces to be out of Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 indicate the reduction to 10 brigades is currently being planned. The big change is that the mission for all US brigades will be overwatch. Tactical overwatch is on-call for support of Iraqi Security Forces. Operational and strategic overwatch is to protect Iraq from foreign threats.
At this point, the Iraqi Army can provide internal security in all areas of Iraq. The US role is to provide backup support if needed. The expansion of the INP to take over internal security will continue to free up Iraqi Army units for external defense training and equipping. The Iraqi Army is planned to receive significant amounts of heavy weapons during 2009. The fielding of engineers, artillery and support will be complete by 2011. That leaves air and armor as the components of the Iraqi Army still being built. The INP will still be building on its support components.
Reducing from 10 to 7 brigades.
The decision to draw down forces will be made by September 2009 so that the drawdown can be completed by January 2010. The Iraqi Police and INP will become the primary internal security while the Iraqi Army will continue to retrain for external security. The Iraqi Security Forces should be able to handle internal security throughout Iraq without US support. The training teams and Special Operations Forces still be working with the ISF in the field, but will probably be reducing their presence. The US brigades are present for overwatch against external threats.
Reduction from 7 to 5 brigades.
The decision to draw down forces will be made by March 2010 so that the drawdown can be completed by July 2010. The Ministry of Interior (MoI) will be in charge of internal security. The Iraqi Army will have two to three corps operational for external defense. The Iraqi Navy will have received all of its planned vessels and will be considering the planned size of the Iraqi Marines. With the exceptions of the training teams and special operations forces still working with the Iraqi Security Forces, the remaining five US Combat Brigades will be based at Tallil, Balad, Q-west, Taji, and Al Asad to provide overwatch against external threats.
Reducing from 5 to 0 brigades.
The decision to draw down forces will be made by September 2010 so that the drawdown can be completed by January 2011. All US combat brigades will be removed. However, security brigades will assume security at the five bases. Some training teams and special operations forces will still be embedded with Iraqi Security Forces. All four IA Corps should be operational. The Iraqi Army can handle national defense with US air support. The Iraqi Navy will be fully operational. The only component that requires assistance is the Iraqi Air Force.
All US combat brigades are gone.
The Iraqi Minister of Defense has stated it will be 2018 before Iraq can fully defend itself. Iraqi Ground forces will be capable of controlling and defending their country in 2011, but the Iraqi Air Force will still be seven years from providing adequate air defense. The Iraqi Air Force plans to have only 376 aircraft by 2020. US air cover will be needed. The ISF will probably assume fully independent national defense in 2018-2020. While the tactics and operations have continually adjusted, US strategic policy for Iraq has not changed: "As the Iraqis stand up..."
CJ Radin and Bill Roggio contributed to this report.