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Expert Comment - Increased US troops in Iraq

Dr Rob Johnson may be contacted on 024 7657 5302, or via press officer Richard Fern on 07876 217740 

The announcement by the Bush administration to send more than 20,000 extra troops to Iraq is meant primarily for domestic audiences.  In fact, it will mean at best 8,000 more front-line fighting troops, the remainder will be in support roles of one description or another. 8,000 constitutes a strength of just two brigades, which will have little appreciable impact when the United States has already deployed 132,000 men in the country, and that does not include its coalition partners.

It is now impossible to 'win' this conflict in terms of the tasking criteria that Bush set his armed forces. Counter insurgency is not the forte of the US Army and the US Marines . In 2003 they were able to subdue the country in a matter of days in a highly successful 'warfighting' operation (by contrast, it took Hitler three weeks to subdue Poland). However, few commentators think the US can win this counter-insurgency conflict with a secure political settlement, making failure inevitable.

The deployment of yet more men to Iraq appears out of step with promises to 'draw down', that is, reduce the numbers of US troops, but the 'surge' of additional forces may help the US break contact with the insurgents by delivering a ‘big kick’ to its assailants, possibly as preparation for a withdrawal in the Autumn (in advance of the timetable of withdrawal by 2008).

Historians will be able to look back on this war and, with the benefit of hindsight, try to identify the causes of failure. The US was not prepared for the insurgency following the initial campaign of 2003, or the political failures in Iraq that accompanied it.

Some commentators have described Iraq as Bush’s Vietnam, but such historical analogies are often deceptive.  However, it is interesting to note the US won all its military engagements in Vietnam, but still failed to win the war.  The United States' military power is overwhelming, but the insurgents know that the steady trickle of American casualties is politically unpopular. In Vietnam, American not only failed to adapt quickly enough to a guerrilla war, it lost the political will to prosecute a counter insurgency.

President Bush wants to be able to declare an end to American and Coalition involvement in Iraq – in many respects washing his hands of its fate, and declaring the subsequent slide into civil war and Iraqi rather than a American failure.