the consequences of fallujah

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    U.S. struggles to find troops for Iraq, Afghanistan

    By Joseph L. Galloway

    Knight Ridder Newspapers

    WASHINGTON - The Army, which has been hard pressed to find enough soldiers to man the rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, may soon be faced with an urgent request to find another 5,000 to 7,000 troops to increase the number of boots on the ground in Iraq.

    Commanders there have been quietly signaling an immediate need for at least that many more soldiers to add to the 138,000 Americans already there. This, they say, is the minimum number needed to allow them to pursue the offensive against the insurgents in the wake of the taking of Fallujah.

    Far from breaking the back of the insurgency, the capture of Fallujah only served as a signal for the enemy to launch its own offensive in cities across the Sunni triangle and in Baghdad itself. The fighters and leaders who fled Fallujah before the Americans launched their attack simply moved to other cities and went straight to work sowing havoc.

    The daily number of attacks and incidents in Iraq is now running more than 100 per day, or double what it was before the Fallujah offensive began.

    Having taken Fallujah in a violent and bloody campaign that took the lives of more than 50 Americans and uncounted Iraqis and virtually destroyed a city where the insurgents and foreign fighters had had sanctuary and free reign for six months, the Americans now are obliged to rebuild what they destroyed.

    The city and the reconstruction efforts both have to be secured against a return of the insurgents, thus tying down thousands of American soldiers and Marines when they are needed elsewhere to fight those who escaped Fallujah.

    Commanders in Iraq are under pressure to take the war to the enemy and beat them into less of a threat so that the Jan. 30 first round of elections in that country can take place with minimal violence. Washington would love to see an election in Iraq that was something like the success of the Afghanistan voting last month.

    Army planners are looking at a number of temporary stop-gap measures to boost the strength in Iraq during January, including extension of the tours of thousands of soldiers nearing the end of their 12-month combat assignment and speeding up the deployment of the 3rd Mech Infantry Division so more of them arrive before January.

    They are also reportedly eyeing the ready brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division - which stands by at Fort Bragg for rapid deployment anywhere in the world in a crisis - as one way to boost temporarily troop strength in Iraq. Those troops, however, are light infantry and do not come equipped with the Bradley fighting vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks that are increasingly needed for urban combat in Iraq.

    Finding the rest of the troops that commanders want may be difficult. Getting them to Iraq in time and properly equipped to fight in that dangerous environment may be even more difficult; Army and Marine commanders have already used up most of their bag of tricks to find troops for the usual rotations to Iraq.

    The Baltimore Sun reports that the Army is hard pressed to find enough officers for staff jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan and will double the length of their tours in those countries from 179 days at present to a full 12 months.

    Other extraordinary steps ordered or under consideration include pulling officers out of military schools or delaying entry into such programs. They could also curtail family-oriented programs such as the one that allows soldiers to extend their tours at a stateside base so their children can finish their senior year in high school.

    The Army is struggling to fill hundreds of staff jobs for majors and lieutenant colonels in war zone headquarters and in the past month began stripping majors and lieutenant colonels from their Pentagon billets and ordering them to Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Although the Pentagon has counted on the rapidly growing Iraqi security forces to begin taking up some of the slack, their hopes may be misplaced in the immediate future. The Iraqi battalions in the field seem to function much better when they come in behind American troops, as in Samara and Fallujah.

    Until they have a good deal more experience and develop both leadership and confidence they will remain too weak to go after insurgents and foreign fighters in the Sunni triangle.



    Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005-3994.
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