Military situationi improving in Iraq? But not in the military itself?

According to the Independent, the Pentagon thinks the military situation in Iraq has improved sufficiently, that it can consider a partial withdrawal of “up to a third of its forces.” That would presumably ease the pressure to impose a draft.

But amid the cheery news comes a warning. According to John Pike, “director of the Washington-based think tank GlobalSecurity.Org,” “The question is whether this is simply a lull and whether, once they have regrouped, it will be back to business as usual. That could very well be the case.”

The violence against Americans and Iraqi government officials has dropped, and the Pentagon claims progress in training Iraqi forces. But the Indendent notes that a considerable amount of violence is directed at Iraqis, that oil production in the north of the country is still hampered by insurgent attacks, and that about 48% of Iraqis are still unemployed.

Meanwhile, reports well over 1 million soldiers have been deployed since the 9/11 attacks, “approximately one-third the number of troops ever stationed in or around Vietnam during 15 years of that conflict.” And of those, “one-third have gone more than once.”

The data sheds new light on how all-consuming the post-9/11 wars have been for the U.S. military, and suggests a particular strain on U.S. ground forces. An increasing number of military experts believe those forces — the Army and Marines — are months away from being overtaxed to the point of serious dysfunction. The situation in Iraq must continue to stabilize. If it doesn’t, and the Bush administration continues to both reject the idea of a draft and rebuff efforts to permanently increase the size of the Army and Marines, U.S. ground forces will break down to a point not seen since just after Vietnam.

“Unless things start to improve, we will start to see a serious problem in six to nine months,” said Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine Corps three-star general and a former Marine Corps deputy chief of staff under Ronald Reagan. “I think they [the Pentagon] are betting that things are going to get better. But that could be a miscalculation,” said Trainor. “This crowd has been pretty good at miscalculating.”

Pike believes the reserves are already broken. “[M]ilitary experts said the tempo of the Iraq war will eventually erode the Army and the Marine Corps into a state of disrepair similar to that after Vietnam, when discipline, morale and readiness were considered by some historians to be the worst ever. The Army was recovering from a war in which troops had killed their superior officers. Drugs were rampant. Some units in Vietnam had refused to fight. That took a decade to fix as the military moved away from the draft to an all-volunteer force in 1973 and began to purge officers who were performing poorly.”

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