But with American forces already stretched to breaking point in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions around the world, the viability of any significant increase in the US troop level is the focus of intense debate in Washington.
Frustrated over the near daily loss of life in Iraq, influential Senators Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware and Republican John McCain from Arizona are leading a bipartisan effort to convince the Bush administration to send more troops to the region.
The top US military commanders, however, say an increase in American forces is unnecessary.
Both sides support the addition of more international troops as long as the US retains overall command, but several prominent members of the United Nations Security Council have expressed a reluctance to provide military assistance unless the US agrees to put the operation under UN supervision.
Politics aside, almost everyone in Washington agrees that Iraq has reached a critical stage in the fight to stabilize the country, and that a larger security force is needed to keep the peace.
James Dobbins, a former Bush envoy to Afghanistan and now director of the International Security and Defence Policy Center at the Rand Corp, believes it will take 500,000 combat troops, police officers and peacekeepers to pacify the resistance movement.
“Unless you want to give them Iraqi citizenship, they’ve got to come home. They’ve got wives”
Edward Atkenson, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Land Warfare
“You can’t mitigate the violence without increasing the overall size of the force,” Dobbins said.
The US has roughly 140,000 troops in Iraq right now, a number that Senator McCain recently described as “obviously inadequate” in an editorial for The Washington Post.
“A visitor quickly learns in conversations with US military personnel that we need to deploy at least another division,” McCain said.
Defining the problem
The problem, military experts say, is the fact that two-thirds of the US Army is already deployed worldwide.
“We might be able to send a few more [troops to Iraq], but we’re about stretched like a drum,” said Edward Atkenson, a former major general in the Army and now a senior fellow at the Institute of Land Warfare, a military think tank.
Speaking at a business conference on the reconstruction of Iraq, Daniel Christman, an ex-Army general and former assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that overextending US forces could have devastating consequences.
“If we engage more US [soldiers] there, we wind up, in less than three years, destroying our Army,” Christman said.
While the US might be able to send up to 70,000 Marines back over to Iraq, it would provide nothing more than a short-term fix to a long-term problem, he said. Traditionally, the Marines do not handle peacekeeping duties.
No more troops
The new Iraqi Civil Defence Corps
Increasing the size of the US force in Iraq might be the least of the Bush administration’s problems, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, which stated that the Army does not have enough active-duty forces to sustain the current troop level beyond March of next year.
With a potential threat looming in North Korea and US forces already committed elsewhere, the Army cannot afford to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely while limiting tours of duty to one year, the report said. The Army has approximately 480,000 active-duty soldiers.
Tours of duty could be extended to maintain the troop level, but soldiers need to be rotated out of hostile zones for their own physical and emotional well being, Atkenson said.
“Unless you want to give them Iraqi citizenship, they’ve got to come home,” he said. “They’ve got wives.”
Sending another division or two to Iraq, as Senator McCain requested, while sustaining the Army’s other deployments would require a new batch of recruits, something that could be a tough sell in the current political climate, Atkenson said.
“We’re going to have to be going around to all the high schools and asking the kids to enlist and come on for a nice trip to Iraq,” he said.
Breakdown the 34 nation occupation force
United States 130,000
Finding more active-duty troops is not the only dilemma. While re-enlistment levels among active duty service members are holding steady, the diminution of Army Reserve and Army National Guard volunteers could become a concern, Christman said.
The Army counts on both the Guard and Reserve as a vital supplement to regular forces during extended military engagements, but the ongoing campaign in Iraq might dissuade people from enlisting or re-enlisting in either organization, he said.
“We’ll miss our National Guard enlistments and already we’re beginning to see the worst in signs of breakage of the pinnacle aspects of our Reserve component force,” he said.
Asking for help
All this has left Bush administration scrambling to enlist the help of the international community, something it failed to do before the war, in the eyes of many diplomats.
The State Department is preparing to submit a new draft resolution to the UN Security Council, asking other nations to contribute money and troops in exchange for a greater role in the reconstruction effort.
However, the US insists on retaining primary political and military control of the operation for the time being, something France and Germany have pointed to as a potential deal-breaker.
Both sides have indicated that a compromise could be reached whereby the US would maintain command over all military forces and the UN would receive more involvement in the political decision-making in Iraq.
Half million wanted
Either way, Dobbins said his vision of a 500,000 member security detail would require the international community to match the US troop level.
“It’s not unreasonable to think that the US can get the rest of the world to contribute a number of troops equal to the US number of troops,” he said.
Internationalizing the force structure is a key component in the fight to stabilize Iraq, he said. The consensus in Washington is that the current guerilla war is, he claims, being waged by a small number of hardcore Baathists and possibly by foreign fighters with connections to al-Qaida.
While they probably will not be deterred by an enlarged multinational force, the presence of more international troops might give the occupation greater legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, Dobbins said. Their assistance is what is needed to quell the resistance attacks, he said.
“The people you’re appealing to are not the extremists … If the general population feel that the US and its coalition partners are making them safer, then they will cooperate with the coalition forces,” he said.
More cooperation means better intelligence, which equals a more effective crack down on guerilla fighters, he said.
But the best way to provide security in Iraq is simple, experts say: let the Iraqis do it themselves.
“When the Iraqi capacity to provide security is bolstered, then the international community is served,” said Jeff Kojac, a fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies who specializes in post-conflict reconstruction.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appears to agree, telling reporters recently that the creation of a larger Iraqi security force is one of his top priorities.
More than 50,000 Iraqis are already serving as soldiers, police officers, border guards and paramilitary troops. Rumsfeld said he hoped to increase that number to 100,000 by next year.