NYT story on the reality of what a post-drawdown US force presence in Iraq will actually entail.
The August deadline might be seen back home as a milestone in the fulfillment of President Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq, but here it is more complex. American soldiers still find and kill enemy fighters, on their own and in partnership with Iraqi security forces, and will continue to do so after the official end of combat operations. More Americans are certain to die, if significantly fewer than in the height of fighting here.
The withdrawal, which will reduce the number of American troops to 50,000 — from 112,000 earlier this year and close to 165,000 at the height of the surge — is a feat of logistics that has been called the biggest movement of matériel since World War II. It is also an exercise in semantics.
What soldiers today would call combat operations — hunting insurgents, joint raids between Iraqi security forces and United States Special Forces to kill or arrest militants — will be called “stability operations.” Post-reduction, the United States military says the focus will be on advising and training Iraqi soldiers, providing security for civilian reconstruction teams and joint counterterrorism missions.
“In practical terms, nothing will change,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, the top American military spokesman in Iraq. “We are already doing stability operations.” Americans ceased major combat in Iraq long ago, and that has been reflected in the number of casualties. So far this year, 14 soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, and 27 more from accidents, suicides and other noncombat causes, according to icasualties.org.
Remember this when you hear similar descriptions re: Afghanistan. The norm for US interventions of significant size is that we go, we fight, we drawdown, but we stay for the long haul. The key is getting casualties down to very low levels. Once achieved, the US public will allow ad infinitum, because opponents are no longer able to characterize it as "war."
The experts have it backwards; the American public has little patience for the Leviathan, therefore its operations must be very short and highly victories, but it has plenty more patience for SysAdmin stuff so long as the commitments are seen as small enough, the casualties low enough, and the value-achieved-for-expenditure seem reasonable.