Yesterday, Tony Snow claimed that the Iraq Study Group report contained “no suggestions for drop-dead dates or benchmarks” for the redeployment of U.S. forces. While the ISG report is filled with so many caveats that it’s difficult to tell what it is actually saying, one implication is clear: the Iraqis have one year to take over military operations — or else.
In other words, yes, it’s a timetable, Tony.
On page 72, the report calls for “all combat brigades not necessary for force protection to be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces.” Recommendation 42 of the report says that we should “seek to complete the training and equipping mission by the first quarter of 2008.”
By indicating that “combat brigades” should be out of Iraq by early 2008, the clear implication of the ISG report is that the Iraqis have a little more than a year to fully take over military operations. What has caused confusion is that the report leaves open the possibility of “embedding” an unspecified number of U.S. troops in Iraqi units after the first quarter of 2008. This has led many to believe that the troop redeployments called for by the ISG report would be very limited.
But the embedding of U.S. troops is conditional on the Iraqis having a capable fighting force. You cannot embed U.S. forces unless there is a stable, disciplined, and effective Iraqi fighting force. As Michael Gordon pointed out today, many in the military do not believe the Iraqi military will be capable of supporting embedded forces in a year. But that is precisely the challenge that ISG is putting to the Iraqis.
And if the Iraqis are unable to support embedded U.S. troops, the report states that the U.S. “carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if Iraq does not implement its planned changes.” The implication, in other words, is that if Iraqis don’t ‘stand up,’ we are all out of there in 14 months.
– Max Bergmann