The number of US and allied combat brigades deployed in Iraq has been cut in half since the height of the “surge” in the summer of 2007, while the number of Iraqi security forces has nearly doubled during the same period of time.
The US Department of Defense has announced the reduction of two more US combat brigades during 2009. The announcement also noted the withdrawal of the last non-US coalition combat brigade from Iraq. The UK 20th Armored Brigade starts its departure this month. The reductions will bring the total coalition forces in Iraq from 24 combat brigades at the peak of the “surge” to only 12 in the fall of 2009.
The coalition forces departing or whose deployments are canceled include one of the two US Marine regimental combat teams (USMC brigade equivalent), the UK 20th Armored Brigade, and the US Army 4/82 Brigade Combat Team. The total number of US Stryker brigades will remain at two and will not be reduced as some in the press had speculated. The shift in forces will be done as part of the normal rotation of replacement forces. Between now and September, the changes in brigade counts in each area will be as follows:
Multi-National Division-North: Four brigades remaining, MND-N added a brigade in Kirkuk this winter.
• 3/1 Cavalry Brigade Combat Team (+)-Ninawa
• 2/1 Cavalry BCT (-)-Kirkuk
• 3/25 BCT-Salahadin
• 1/25 SBCT (+)-Diyala
Multi-National Division-Baghdad: Four brigades remaining, MND-B has reduced from six BCTs with the un-replaced departures of the 1/4 BCT and 3/4 BCT.
• 56/28 SBCT (-)-Northern Baghdad Province
• 2/1 BCT (+)-Northwest Baghdad
• 3/82 BCT (+)-Eastern Baghdad
• 2/1 Armored BCT (+)-Southwest Baghdad and Southern Baghdad Province
Multi-National Division-Central: Three brigades remaining, MND-C effectively replacing the UK 20th Armored Brigade with a brigade from the Babil/Diwaniyah area when it takes over Basrah from the UK.
• 172nd BCT (-)-Babil. Replacement of this BCT and 2/4 BCT with only one BCT in Aug/Sep 2009.
• 2/4 BCT (-)-Diwaniyah. Replacement of this BCT and 172nd BCT with only one BCT in Aug/Sep 2009.
• 2/1 Cavalry BCT-Maysan/DhiQar. Normal replacement in August 2009.
• 1/1 Cavalry BCT-probably going to Basrah. Replacement for the UK 20th Armored Brigade starting late March 2009.
Multi-National Force-West: Reducing by half to one Marine Expeditionary Brigade. MNF-W may consolidate into one of the other three Multi-National Divisions.
Multi-National Division-Southeast: Disbanded and transferred to MND-C during March-June 2009.
Multi-National Division-Central/South: Disbanded and transferred to MND-C in fall 2008.
Multi-National Division-Northeast: Disbanded and transferred to MND-N in fall 2008.
The heaviest brigade cuts have been and continue to be in the south, west (Anbar), and Baghdad regions. Multi-National Division-North has actually increased forces in this rotation. The two principal areas where US forces have not already transitioned over to primarily training the Iraqi Security Forces are Diyala and Ninewa Provinces in MND-N.
The 12 cut coalition combat brigades have been replaced by Iraqi Security Forces at a two-for-one ratio during the period since the “surge.” At the start of the “surge,” the Iraqi Army had 36 combat brigades, the Iraqi National police had nine combat brigades, and the Department of Border Enforcement had 12 brigades. That was a total of 57 ISF brigades. Now the Iraqi Army has 55 combat brigades, the INP has 14 combat brigades, and the DBE has 13 brigades. That is a current total of 82 ISF brigades. That is a 25 combat brigade increase in the ISF while the coalition reduced by 12 combat brigades.
However, the difference in personnel numbers is the more telling of the conditions. The coalition personnel numbers during the “surge” peaked at just under 180,000 (168,000 US and 12,000 allied) troops. The current reductions in coalition forces only bring the total personnel numbers down to approximately 120,000 in September 2009.
During this same time period, the Iraqi Army doubled in size from 125,000 to 250,000. The Iraqi National Police increased by 50 percent to 45,000. The Department of Border Enforcement increased by 20 percent to 46,000. The Iraqi Police also nearly doubled. Most of that increase consists of inexperienced troops and police.
Many of the green elements and the new personnel being added to the ISF are to become the support elements that the ISF lacks. Until these new troops and police complete their training, the US support elements will be needed to train and partner with the new ISF support elements formed and forming. That is why the cutting of half the coalition combat brigades translates into a one-third reduction in coalition personnel numbers.
The Iraqi Army plans to increase by 75,000 personnel this year. However, only a quarter of that will be combat battalions. The rest will be logistics, engineers, light field artillery, medical, air, and intelligence components.
The Iraqi National Police hopes to almost double its force this year, to 80,000. However, most of that will be the transfer of existing police paramilitaries to INP command and their retraining by the INP.
The cycle of coalition reductions is still based on the brief by General Petraeus to the US House and Senate on Sept. 11, 2007. Just replace the word “overwatch” with “training” on the briefing slide. Each six months (March and September), military planners determine the next reductions. The commanders have just announced the reduction from 15 to 12 combat brigades. In September, they will probably announce the further reduction to 10. Next March, they will be looking at reducing to seven “training” brigades by September of 2010. In September 2010, they will be looking at reducing to five “training” brigades. In March 2011, they will be looking at the removal of the final five “training” brigades.
The reduction of US forces is still being driven by the policy of “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”
The Real Surge – November 23, 2007
Iraqi Security Forces continue to surge – December 21, 2007
The Real Surge Continues: Iraqi Army Corps Formation – April 22, 2008
US draws down forces as Iraqis stand up security forces – August 22, 2008