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This is a speculation piece. The decisions on this option will not be made until after a new Iraqi Government is formed. The last time it took 5 months to form a government after the elections. Then it will take an agreement between the US Government and the new Iraqi Government to extend the US presence in Iraq and to determine the size and locations.
The Iraqi Security Forces will not be capable of a successful defense of Iraq against an external threat in 2012. It has never been the plan for the ISF to stand alone in 2012. Since 2005, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense has repeatedly and publically stated that the plan is for the Iraqi Security Forces to reach Strategic Independence in 2020, not 2012. In May 2009, the Defense Minister, General Abdel Qader Jassim, stated that they might not meet the 2015 and 2020 goals given the current budget problems. The agreement for US Forces to leave Iraq by 2012 was driven by politics, not the planned capabilities of the ISF.
The development and modernization plan for the Iraqi Security Force is broken into 3 5-year plans:
- Phase 1 (2006-2010): Tactical independence. This means that the ISF is able to perform effective low-intensity conflict [internal security and counter-insurgency] by the end of 2010. This goal has been met.
- Phase 2 (2011-2015): Operational independence. This means the Ministry of Interior forces are developed to the point of taking over internal security and the Ministry of Defense forces are transitioning to external security. While the MoI training and development appears to be on schedule, the MoD equipment and support is not adequately funded. The biggest weakness at this point is the total lack of orders for air defense weapons, indicating there will be no effective Iraqi air defense capacity by 2015. It takes years to produce and deliver weapons, train personnel, and develop the support infrastructure. And that clock does not start until the systems are ordered.
- Phase 3 (2016-2020): Strategic independence. This is what it sounds like. The ISF able to stand on its own. However, the budget issues indicate that 2020 may be an optimistic date.
As you might notice, 2012 is not even a waypoint in the actual Iraqi Ministry of Defense plan for developing the ISF. In 2012, the ISF will be capable of internal security but, will not be able to successfully defend its borders:
- In 2012, the Iraqi Air Force will not have any fighters unless they are provided with used aircraft. Even in that case, they will be 3 years at minimum training personnel to make those aircraft a functional and effective air defense force. Helicopter support forces will be further in development but, still under strength and in training. Fixed-wing transports will still be in delivery. Only the reconnaissance and training wings will be operational in 2012.
- In 2012, the Iraqi Army will have 1 modern armored division and 1 old-Soviet equipped mechanized division plus mechanized brigades equivalent to another mechanized division spread throughout four other divisions; only half of the minimum of 6 heavy divisions that are required to cover the key areas of the Iraqi borders and no reserve. Artillery elements will still be in development, at this time only 1 of the 14 commissioned divisions has howitzers. Likewise, Corps-Troops, engineers and logistics will still be in development. While the supporting logistics is adequate for internal security, it is not even close to adequate for the requirements of a conventional war. The Iraqi Army will still have responsibility for internal security in several areas since the Ministry of Interior forces will not be fully trained and reorganized to take over.
- In 2012, the Iraqi Navy will still be a year from its remaining 2 offshore support vessels and 15 patrol boats being operational units. Delivery is not scheduled to complete until late 2013.
- In 2012, the Ministry of Interior’s Emergency Response Force and Federal Police will be 3 years from completing the retraining and absorption of provincial Emergency Police forces. The Oil Police Directorate is not planned to be ready to fully take over security of the oil infrastructure until 2014. This means that elements of the Iraqi Army will still be performing internal security duties that the MoI is supposed to take over and will not be available to shift to external security until 2015. Additionally the Federal Police and ERF have wartime roles providing forces to the Iraqi Army. Their training for those reserve roles does not start until after 2015, when they have completed their training for their police roles. The Department of Border Enforcement is also still short 5 brigades and support forces for their role and is unlikely to be fully operational in 2012.
US Forces remaining in Iraq will probably be designated as training forces and day to day that is exactly what they will be doing – training Iraqi Security Forces in the use of their new equipment and battalion/brigade level employment. Their other function will be as General Petraeus briefed Congress in 2007, strategic overwatch filling those gaps in Iraqi capabilities. Total personnel numbers will probably be about 25,000. Basing will probably be at Tallil, Balad, Q-West, Al Asad, and Taji. In an emergency, these forces could be reinforced to a corps in 6 to 8 weeks.
Based on the gaps in ISF capabilities, what follows is the probable composition of US Forces needed to remain in Iraq after the agreed withdraw by 2012, plus forces in the region and prepositioned equipment available if a rapid reinforcement is required.
- US Air Force in Iraq - Will probably base 6 Fighter Squadrons at Tallil, Balad, and Al Asad. Their duties will include training the Iraqi Air force in air combat maneuvering and providing air defense until they are operational. This will probably be needed until 2018-2020, however, delays in delivery and training could extend this requirement.
- US Air Force in theater support - Transport aviation would probably be based in Kuwait to provide the majority of the supply needed by air. Additional aviation could be rapidly deployed to reinforce from Europe and the US if needed.
- US Army in Iraq – A reinforced division composed of 3 Aviation Brigades [Taji, Q-West, and Al Asad], 2 Heavy Brigade Combat Teams [Balad, Taji], 1 Stryker Brigade Combat Team [Q-West], 1 Light Brigade Combat Team [Al Asad], 1 Field Artillery Brigade [Tallil], and the division headquarters [Taji] with probable air defense detachments at each base. These forces will help train the Iraqi aviation, artillery, armor, and airmobile forces, provide security for the US Air Force, and provide aviation support to their airmobile forces. Their overwatch role would be to provide a mobile reserve to reinforce the under-equipped Iraqi Army until their forces complete upgrade and training. With the exception of one brigade providing security for the US Air force, these forces would probably phase out by 2015-2016 as the Iraqi Army gains armor, artillery, and the Iraqi Air Force gains helicopters.
- US Army in theater support - An additional Heavy Brigade Combat Team would be based in Kuwait and would provide convoy security as needed while being available as mechanized reinforcement in southern Iraq in emergency. This brigade will phase out as the Army forces in Iraq phase out. The forces in Iraq could be rapidly reinforced utilizing the US Army’s prepositioned Heavy Brigade Combat Team sets in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi, UAE, and embarked on the Army’s prepositioning squadron at Diego Garcia.
- US Navy and Marine Corps in theater support - This does not ever go away. The USN has had a continual presence in the Gulf since 1943 and is not leaving just because US Forces are departing Iraq. Basing of the USN elements is not in Iraq and their numbers will not count against the forces in Iraq. US Navy forces in the Gulf are a destroyer squadron at minimum. In the Gulf or the North Arabian Sea the US Navy usually has a Carrier Battle Group and an Expeditionary Battle Group with and an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit. It is normal practice to have an additional Carrier Battle Group within 18 days of the Gulf and there are 3 Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons based at Guam, Diego Garcia, and in the Mediterranean. Each MPS has a Marine Expeditionary Brigade’s set of equipment.
(Note: The mix of 2 heavy, 1 light and 1 Stryker brigade in Iraq is based on requirements for training and overwatch combined with the mix of AABs scheduled to take over in the summer of 2010. Those 4 brigades arriving in the summer 2010 rotation are 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment [heavy], 4th Brigade/1st Cavalry Division [heavy], 4th Brigade/3rd Infantry Division [light], and 2nd Brigade/25 Infantry division [Stryker]. The politicians may not have decided yet but, USF-I is already restructuring for the most likely outcome.)
The Iraqi Security Forces are not going to be ready for self-defense in 2012. They were never planned to be ready in 2012. Depending on US and Iraqi politics, this is a an optimal military composition of US “Training” forces remaining in overwatch past the 2012 deadline to fill the gaps in Iraqi capabilities.
However, power politics will have its say in this. It is not in the best interests of any of the country’s regimes’ bordering Iraq for Iraq to be a strong, democratic country with a strong Kurdish representation. Almost all of the bordering countries are kingdoms or theocratic dictatorships and Turkey has a problem with the Kurds. Just the existence of such a country bordering them is a threat to their rule as their populations will ask why they cannot have what Iraq has. The increasing exports of oil from Iraq only makes this a bigger problem for those countries as it increases Iraq’s economic influence at their expense.
This is particularly true for Iran and is why the Iranians want as many pro-Iranian politicians to win as possible or to disrupt Iraq if this is not possible. Iran would like to be in the position to dictate to Iraq through military superiority if not outright control Iraq. Iraq is a natural barrier to expanding Iranian regional influence and provides an example to Iran’s citizens of a form of governance that many aspire too at this time.
While the above is the most likely force composition, if enough power goes to those foreign-sponsored and funded factions, the projection becomes doubtful. The current politics of the US and Iraq are such that the request for continued US presence in Iraq must come from the next Iraqi government after it forms.
The most likely compromise, if those foreign supported factions gain enough power, would be a request for the aviation portions only. This would mean a delay in development and training of the ground forces but, would provide the missing air support.
It is unlikely those factions will gain enough power to outright block a request for US forces to remain but, if they do, there will be no request and the US forces will be gone in 2012. That would leave Iraq vulnerable for at least a decade.