Troops Numbers – Top Up, Draw Down, Overlap and FOB Closings

(Note from Bill Roggio: This post was written by Soldier’s Dad, who has been a valuable source of information on U.S. troop deployments in Iraq.)

By now, the entire world is confused about U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Senator Kerry says less troops, Sen McCain says more troops. Gen Casey says some reductions are probable. All three are telling the truth in a sort of political double-speak sort of way.

The deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase III (OIF III) had 17 Brigades + 3 division headquarters. The US troop allocations were as follows

North West – 1 Brigade

North Central – 4 Brigades

TF Baghdad – 7 Brigades

West – 3 Brigades

Central South 2 Brigades + Multi National Forces

OIF IV was projected in January 2005 to require 17 Combat Brigades + 3 division Headquarters listed below with rotations beginning in Mid 2005 and continuing until mid 2006.

48th Infantry Brigade (Separate), Georgia Army National Guard

2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard

1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Ft. Drum, N.Y.

172d Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Ft. Wainwright, Alaska

II MEU(Headquarters + 2 x Regiments)

101st Airborne Division, Air Assault (division headquarters and 4 brigades)

1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division

1st Brigade, 1st Armor Division

2nd Brigade, 1st Armor Division

4th Infantry Division (division headquarters and 4 brigades)

It should be noted that Combat Brigades account for 60% of forces. For every 3 soldiers “boots on ground – outside the wire” , it takes another 2 soldiers to provide Headquarters and Logistics. Currently we are about halfway between OIF 3 and OIF 4.

Firstly, let’s address Senator McCain’s complaint, he is a decorated combat veteran, and regardless of what one thinks about his political ambitions, his concerns should be taken seriously.

The failure of the Mosul police force in November 2004 left MNF-NW seriously short of manpower. The Stryker Brigades did a fantastic job of regaining control of Mosul by the summer of 2005 with very limited resources.

Fortunately, by May 2005, Haifa street in Baghdad was being patrolled by Iraqi Security Forces “In the Lead” , which allowed 3 battalions of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to relocate to MNF-NW. An additional battalion of 82nd Airborne, which arrived in September 2005, allowed enough troops in the MNF-NW AOR to retake and hold all of the sizeable cities in Ninewa.

In total 4 additional combat battalions have been reassigned to MNF-North West since Senator McCain made his complaint.

In August 2005, 20% of Diyala province was turned over to Iraqi Security Forces which allowed relocation 1 battalion from MNF-NW to MNF-W. In Sept/Oct 2005, the Provinces of Najaf and Karbala were turned over to ISF forces “In the lead” , which allowed reallocating even more forces to Al Anbar. In Sept 2005, a battalion of 82nd Airborne was assigned to Al Anbar.

In addition, in Sept/Oct 2005, an additional 3 sectors of Baghdad were turned over to ISF “In the lead” . As of this writing, the forces have not yet been reallocated, press statements made by the commander of the 48th Infantry Brigade however have indicated that an additional 2 battalions will be allocated to MNF-W(Al Anbar) in November as well as 2 Battalions being sent to Balad. It is unclear whether they are in support of MNF-North Central or 1st COSCOM(Logistics Command.

By sometime in November, an additional 4 battalions will have been assigned to MNF-West.

Overlap and Senator Kerry’s complaint.

Senator Kerry has called for an immediate reduction of 20,000 troops by years end.

In the normal course of rotation, it takes approximately 8 weeks from the time a replacement unit leaves the US, until the unit it is replacing leaves Iraq. Most of this time is spent in Kuwait “acclimating” to the conditions in the Middle East. It just so happens that Pentagon planners scheduled huge rotations around October 15th and December 15th. It happens that the time required to acclimate to the desert heat in October and December is significantly less than the time it takes to acclimate in August.

This has accidentally on purpose resulted in an extra 20,000 troops on hand for the October 15th elections as the 101st Airborne rotated in. This will also probably result in an extra 20,000 troops showing up early around the Dec 15th elections as well. Shortly afterwards, the number of troops in Iraq will be reduced by the 20,000 overlap.

General Casey , Gradual troop reductions and bases.

Bases require troops. They have to be guarded. They need post offices, chow halls, motor pools, counter battery teams  the list goes on and on. TWENTY-NINE Forward operating bases have been closed in Iraq in the last 6 months.(a few have been opened in Al Anbar and Southern Ninewa).

A recent press release indicates that another part of Diyala province will be turned over to the ISF shortly. “The 1st Brigade of the Iraqi Army’s 5th Division in Diyala, because of their proven operational capabilities, will take on a greater security role in the military operations in the sector during the ceremony.”

Where will the unit that was scheduled to replace the soldiers go? Will they be reallocated to another area? An extra battalion of minders for the not so friendly folks of Sammara or Ramadi? We still have 8 Brigades of troops scheduled for OIF 4 that have not yet arrived and we don’t know how they will be allocated.

11 of the 18 Iraqi provinces average less than 1 Hostile event per day. Clearly, this is within the abilities of Iraqi police and Army to track down the perpetrators. A few advisors and a Quick Reaction Force in reasonable proximity is all that needs to be provided. These provinces are candidates for troop reductions, if the reductions haven’t already taken place.

5 of the 18 provinces average 4 attacks per day per million residents. US forces finding 4 sets of thugs in a population of 1 million is most likely beyond the cultural and language barriers of Iraq.

These provinces hold potential for troop reductions as Iraqi forces become more seasoned and capable.

That leaves Al Anbar, which has recently seen troop increases, the effects of which are not yet known, and Salahadin, which may or may not see troops increases in the near future based on a reallocation of troops in Diyala and TF Baghdad.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • John Simon says:

    Good posting on force levels. I think you have slightly overstated the boots on the ground ratios. 17 manuever Brigades would be about 65,000 troops, or 43% of a 150,000 troop force. Add in various Special Forces, Corps and Divisional recon, aviation and other combat arms units and you would still have a hard time getting above 50%, or 75,000 troops with manuever combat duties. Even this overstates manuever troop levels, as the Brigades have a third of their troop levels in combat support and logistics, so one could presume actual manuever combat strength is actually about 50,000 troops in 70-75 maneuver battalions across the 17+ brigades. This is not to reflect negatively upon the non-manuever troops, many of whom face combat and death in the course of their duties. Just that for every reduction in a maneuver battalion, you get to reduce other, supporting troops by a 2:1 ratio. These numbers are gross approximations, and vary somewhat by unit type and deployment work-ups (eg. armor battalions much smaller than infantry, some mortar and artillery units conversted to at least partial infantry units)
    This tooth to tail ratio of 1:2 is actually pretty good compared to other wars. I believe the ratio in Vietnam was much closer to 1:5. The transformation projects have increased the number of maneuver units and, combined with various technology and outsourcing intiatives, and reduced the tail manpower requirements.
    It is also interesting to note that the Guard component of the troops will be way down with the next rotation, just 2 (GA 48th Sep and PA 2nd/28th Div) of the 17 brigades. I believe that reducing Guard participation and troop levels will reduce troop casualties, many of which occur in logistics support operations, and even more proportionally reduce negative press domestically, particularly at the local media level. Operating with two less brigades would reduce overall troop strength by 20,000 – 25,000 troops.
    One curious observation is that Divisional headquarters units seem to be short one – normal ratios are 4 Brigades per Division, the 101st and 4th Mech are deploying as full Divisions with 4 Brigades, presumably the II MEU will supplement the two Marine Regiments with an army Brigade or two, that still leaves at least a Division’s worth of Brigades without an obvious US Divisional headquarters unit. Either Divisional span of control in practice is greater than 4 Brigades, or various multi-national and/or theater specific headquarters will manage the assorted Brigades on regional/local levels.

  • exhelodrvr says:

    Just curious, how many civilian contractors are now performing duties that used to be done by military personnel? Those should be taken into account when looking at tail-tooth ratios.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    John Simon,
    On the reserves, the 2 Reserve Brigades were rotated in mid 2005. IMHO THe absence of a 4th Division Headquarters signals a reallignment from 6 AOR’s(2 Headquartered by Multi National Forces) to 4 AOR’s, North,South(British HQ),East and West.

  • cjr says:

    A couple of nit picking points:
    The 3ACR was in North Babil province. Progress in that province allowed the 3ACR to move to Tel Afar. It also will allows 1 battalion of the 48th to moved to Qaim.
    In addition to the 17 brigades deployed, a number of National Guard battalions(or elements of), not organic to the 17 have also deployed. Examples for OIF#4(could be some overlap with OIF#3),
    2/130th, 36th Division attached to 1/10th Division
    B 1/115th and 2/172nd/42nd Division attached to 48th bde
    1/172nd, 42nd Division
    1/127th, 42nd Division
    1/127th, 42nd Division
    1/104th, 29th Division
    1/116th, 29th Division
    2/127th, 32nd bde
    2/128th, 32nd bde
    1/109th, 28th Division, Al Taqaddum airbase security

  • Jamison1 says:

    I believe that reducing Guard participation and troop levels will reduce troop casualties, many of which occur in logistics support operations, and even more proportionally reduce negative press domestically, particularly at the local media level.


    I don’t understand this sentence. Logistics support will still be needed and provided. So how will troop casualties be reduced?

  • Justin B says:

    I think that I could assume that John is stating that many of the Guard units that provide logistical support operations are by far the least combat ready. The weekenders don’t have the equipment or the training that the regulars do, especially for the non-combat logistics guard units that do not train in any kind of combat operations on a routine basis.

    Is that what you are implying?

  • Justin B says:

    I don’t know if that logic is true or not, but have heard it repeated occasionally in the media. Equipment is older and less ready and folks are less trained. Allegedly.

    It certainly is not a real PR winner to take someone who is in the Guard and send them to Iraq and it brings the face of the war to lots of small towns that have small drill centers. But on the upside, it also means these people are coming back to their small towns and providing first hand details on the war and what is actually going on over there.

    The increased dependance on Guard and Reserve troops is part of the troop reduction and BRAC cycles that have allowed the cost cutting and drawdown of troops. If I am misreading your statements, please clarify, but if the use of Guard and Reserves is creating more casualties, this needs to be addressed by training or equipment improvements, not simply ignored by using more Active Duty forces.

  • Jamison1 says:

    4ID begins second deployment to Iraq

  • Jamison1 says:

    4ID begins second deployment to Iraq

  • Patrick says:

    Our local Tennessee National Guard Armored Cavalry Unit (278) just left Iraq. A co-worker of mine held the opinion that his troopers were BETTER prepared for Iraq than the 3rd ID was when it entered Iraq in April,2003.
    Lessons learned had been incorporated and I;m here to tell you the good old boys from Tennessee kicked some jihadi in Diyala Province.
    Way more action than their predecessors from North Carolina based on Army records,kills,arrests,arms caches found and exploded and unfortunately,we took more than double the casualties as a result.

  • Jamison1 says:

    I would be interested in impressions of moral of the troops in Iraq if he would like to share.

  • John Simon says:

    My comment on reducing Guard/Reserve units and casualties and media impact were driven by a couple of things:
    1) Combat arms (tooth) are disproportionately Regular Army, and Combat Support (toothy tail) and Combat Service Support (tail) are disproportionatley Guard and Reserve forces. Maths says therefore IF you reduce forces overall, and IF there is a 1:2 tooth/tail ratio, then Guard and Reserve forces will be a larger portion of the reduced forces, leaving the remaining forces more Regular.
    2) The nature of Guard/Reserve units are tied to localities – units are comprised of troops from the same, narrow geographic areas. Thus casualties, which tend to occur in bunches, tend to hit an individual locality harder than equivalent casualties from Regular units. (For some reason the media tends to ignore Regular soldier duty base’s home towns, and report casualties from the locality a Regular soldier enlisted from/where his parents are – spouses and children are clustered in the base home town)
    3) Media tend to cover their local Guard and Reserve (Guard more so for some reason) more closely. Most papers have a hard time covering military affairs, and tend to focus on lifestyle/homefront stories verses any actual military reporting on the war or their units contributions to it militarily. I live in Atlanta and I hope the abysmal AJC coverage of the GA 48th Mech Brigade is untypically bad.

  • Patrick says:

    He’s incommunicado for about 2 weeks,so I can only relay his last discussion with me about Iraq.
    It was about 3 months ago. He said that Bush would win an election in Diyala Province. He said they were doing good work,important work,never heard him say anything about dissenters,he said we ought to be real proud of the soldier’s and what they were doing.
    The only negative thing he said was about 3 weeks ago he e-mailed and said he was ready to get out of that “hot hell hole”. 12 months is a little too long of a term,it probably ought to have been 9 months,I noticed a morale drop the last e-mail he dispatched before getting home. Not over the mission,just over missing home and being in that God forsaken place so long.
    That’s a good point above about the NG units DO receive way more local press coverage,that is true.

  • Jason says:

    One small correction, the 2-130 IN is normally assigned to the 66th BDE, 35th ID. It’s from Bloomington, IL. It was filled out by volunteers from across the state, plus a company from New England.
    It’s a prime example of how Guard units are being mixed and matched to make required strengths. Something that isn’t being reported at all, as far as I know.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram