US draws down forces as Iraqis stand up security forces

General Petraeus’ Senate briefing slide from Sept. 11, 2007.

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.



  • Alex says:

    We’ve known about this plan created by the military for some time, but the political rhetoric between US and Iraqi negotiators seem to be talking about shorter and more rigid schedules. This plan by the military makes more sense; you can’t just toss some people air defense missiles or pieces of artillery and just say “Go.” The World War II short training times are not an apt comparison since in World War II, we had a long-established C&C and support structure built.
    Supposing that political constraints force a withdraw faster than the recommended timeframe, there is going to be a need for some kind of crash program for air defense and field artillery.

  • Alex says:

    Actually, I just flipped onto, and I just saw a headline that “Deal would have US troops out of Iraq by 2012”, so maybe the military-recommended plan will happen after all. Good. The reports that I have heard in the past have mentioned everything from 2009 to 2010, which would leave a lot unfinished. Has there been any work yet on an Iraqi military judicial system?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Alex: “Has there been any work yet on an Iraqi military judicial system?”
    Yes. The law changes occured last fall and they have been building up that element since. Since that legal side is more MOI this is an item of interest.

  • Harry Maynard says:

    I think drawdown should be based on the first scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
    Start half way through.

  • Rosario says:

    Goodness, something is missing. I do not hear of any plans for Iraq’s “good” neighbors to help like Jordan, the Saudis, Turkey to help out surely they stand to benefit from this arrangement big time too, aren’t they involved?

  • Cordell says:

    “The Iraqi Minister of Defense has stated it will be 2018 before Iraq can fully defend itself. Iraqi Ground forces will be capable of control and [defense of] 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.”
    This paragraph seems to imply that the US will maintain a sizable array of aircraft and attack helicopters in Iraq for at least the next decade. Does anyone have any details on this and whether they are spelled out in the US-Iraq defense treaty? Also, does the defense treaty permit the forward positioning of other US military hardware (tanks, artillery, etc.) in Iraq? Such details could have considerable bearing on how much leverage the US has with the Iranians vis-a-vis nuclear material enrichment. It would be sad to loose this leverage given the price in lives and treasure we paid for it. After all, a strategic objective of the Iraq War was to halt nuclear proliferation.

  • Joakim Ekström says:

    Remember the saying that a military plan is good until the first shot has been fired. Because a war is not a linear phenomenon it’s very difficult to predict the future – there can potentially be great changes in a very short time. So the war effort depends to a great extent on the military’s ability to quickly adapt to a changing enviroment.
    That said, there are certainly many reasons to be optimistic. While there is much work to be done, I think we should allow ourselves to celebrate all the progress that has been made.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Lets start by pointing out that there is no “Defense Treaty”. Not signed, not in negotiation.
    What is in negotiation is a SOFA agreement. We have those with countries that we are not even allied with. They do not stipulate force levels.
    Quit believing the spin…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Joakim Ekström
    The two rules of military planning were in the original draft first paragraph and were edited out.
    “Rule 1: No plan survives first contact with the enemy.
    Rule 2: There is always a plan, see Rule 1.”
    The reason this plan is still in place and unchanged after more than a year is – it is flexable.
    Every 6 months they decide if they are ready for the next drawdown. If not, it delays to the next decision point…

  • crosspatch says:

    A couple of minor style nits:
    “much long time is needed for more technical units, such as armor and artillery.” Might read better “much lead time …”. And “Iraqi Ground forces will be capable of control and defend their country in 2011” might read better “.. capable of controlling and defending”.
    Again, great stuff.
    [Thanks for the corrections.]

  • jack winters says:

    Hi DJ
    The plan makes perfect sense, but you still didn’t answer how will Iraq deal with external threats without an effective Air force? I mean even if they buy aircraft today it will take years before they get them. And if the US Air force doesn’t maintain a significant force how can Iraq maintain it’s air space?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    jack winters
    Re-read the last paragraph. We will be providing air defense support for the next decade. Minimum. That part of the plan has not ever changed.
    All the speculators about the US leaving by such and such date are talking GROUND COMBAT brigades. That is the spin. They are claiming total withdrawal when what is actually being said is just ground combat elements…
    Also, you are assuming all new aircraft buys. I expect new buys and used (e.g. F16, A18). The used will not last as long but can be delivered faster and cover the period until the new arrives. Accelerate the air force.
    Still a decade, but we have had a naval and air presense in the region since 1943, I do not expect it to leave, do you?

  • Fish Fear Me says:

    Pay No Attention To That Condition Behind The Timetable!

    I’m not normally amused by the pathetic, but I just have to laugh at this post from the always mock-worthy, Dan Froomkin:In agreeing to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraqi cities by June, and from the rest of the

  • jack winters says:

    No DJ
    But I personally know how Iraqis think very well; they’re going to go for new build since 2007 all of the aircrafts they bought were new or near new condition. They’re not going to buy used. I feel relieved that the US air force is going to stay. But what about the talk from US officials that they don’t want the power of the US Air force to be used by Iraqi leaders?

  • MIchael Friedman says:

    What is happening with Maliki and the Sunni’s in Diyala provence. Was this a “rogue operation” or as the US stands down part of a power grab by the shia?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    jack winters:
    I said air defense, not air support.
    Any air support will be called in by the “advisors” or will be IZAF. That is why the Iraqis are buying attack helos and COIN aircraft.
    As to buying new. The sticker shock will probably help convince them. That and wanting to be independent as soon as possible. The pricetag and time delay on new aircraft will probably push them to go with a mix of used and new.
    MIchael Friedman:
    Still not sure but, I have figured out which battalion that was. It does not do rogue ops and is directly under the PM’s NOC. Whether they were working from bum intel, good but politicaly sensitive intel, or for political reasons has yet to be determined.

  • Joe Doe says:

    What is happening with Maliki and the Sunni’s in Diyala province. Was this a “rogue operation” or as the US stands down part of a power grab by the shia?
    This was a Maliki directed operation to push out the Sunni’s with in the Diyaala river valley. All the polling stations will be in the DRV which shiite. By arresting the Sheike and the Sunni Awakening leaders Maliki hopes to discourage the Sunnis from voting and thus place Diyaala in the Shiites hands. There is nothing rogue about this operation. This was a CTC/CTB directed operation with full PM backing. The Commandos where FORCED to conduct this operation against the advise of the American advisers on the ground with the them.
    This whole operation is political in nature and broke a whole host of Iraqi laws so far.

  • Michael Friedman says:

    It seems that Maliki’s actions in Diyala has the potential to reverse a much of the progress to date. Any follow-up reporting will be greatly appreciated. Great Site, I read it daily!

  • Joakim Ekström says:

    May I ask, does anyone have any information on the thinning out plan, i.e. to replace BCTs with battalion task forces (as I have understood it)? Has this happened in any provinces and if so, how has it played out?

  • amagi says:

    Joe Doe –
    Can we have your source on that?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Joakim Ekström:
    The thining out has been happening throughout the country. You are seeing an example in progress in south Baghdad mentioned (cited) under 15-12 (17th IA Div).
    The US forces thin out from a Bde to a Bn, but there are usually at least two brigades of ISF added before that are taking over the area. The expansion of the five-bn strong 25th IA Commando Bde to become the 12-bn strong 17th IA Commando Division. That is replacing the US 3/101 BCT.
    The same thing is happening in the Rasheed District with the US 1/4 BCT.
    And happened in Anbar since January, where 50% of the forces have been removed (2 BCT equivalents). Replaced by the Provincial Security Force Division formed by the awakening.
    The reductions of US forces since January have been accompanied by a 2:1 (in some areas 3:1)ratio of ISF replacement brigades for those US forces. There is an overlap while the new brigades are still getting their feet of 6-12 months. The Real Surge as I coined it in November 2007.
    Or as the policy is described: “As the Iraqis stand up, we stand down.”

  • Joe Doe says:

    My source, in do time. The nightmare in Diyaala is almost over but the 2x local Sunni Leaders that were captured are now in Baghdad and still under Iraqi Government control. Both fear being executed on trumped up charges (which they are). The Americans on the ground have been helpless in stopping this from happening.

  • Drawdown

    On Monday, the people of Anbar Province had a parade. Not a Labor Day parade, a liberation day parade, brought to them by the Sunni Awakening Movement and the US Marines. Two years ago, Anbar Province was the most lethal


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