Third Party & Independents Archives

Iraq & Afghanistan; In Search of a Practicable Exit Strategy

Finally…finally it has happened. Operational commanders in the field in Iraq are finally saying what those of us well-versed in military strategy have been stating since the beginning of the Iraq War: we may win tactically, but without a clear and concise plan of operations, including a workable exit strategy, we risk losing the War strategically.

On the front page of The Washington Post, May 9, 2004, Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, who has spent most of this year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are." And he is far from alone is this assessment.

In a situation that can only be characterized as a quagmire—though predictably those in the Bush Administration are loath to call it so—the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is quickly spinning out of control. The news from Iraq we feast on every day; the news from Afghanistan has been far less frequent but nonetheless disturbing. In both countries, in what now has turned into a two front War on Terrorism, what started out as easy victories for the U.S. military has turned into a long drawn out slugfest with no end insight. And along the way, both fronts have proven that Donald Rumsfeld’s theory of modern high tech warfare is somewhat lacking in substance when confronted with the reality of actual occupational warfare.

The President, in all of his recent speeches/press conferences, is long on the rhetoric of victory over the terrorists and short on details of how that victory would be, should be achieved. Missing is an outline for victory, never mind a long range strategic plan for accomplishing the near impossible; defeating international terrorism, and bringing democracy and stability to Iraq, a country where freedom is far removed from the national palette.

What is needed is a plan which Bush lacks the intellectual capacity to give birth to, and the man who does—Secretary of State Colin Powell—is increasingly ostracized and marginalized by this Administration. In light of that fact, I have taken the liberty to formulate my own plan looking past the mere military stratagem currently in place to a search for a meaningful exit strategy for the U.S. military that does not leave Civil War, the possibility for invasion, and wide-spread terrorist enclaves on Iraqi soil in its wake. Here now are the broad strokes:


  1. Relieve the Pentagon (Rumsfeld) and Ms. Rice of any further responsibility for Iraq, outside of security issues. It was clear before we prosecuted the War in Iraq that the State Department was better prepared to run post-war Iraq, than the Pentagon. Security and diplomacy are the necessary ingredients for any postwar healing to take place; neither was present in the opening days of postwar Iraq, and scant little is present now. Lack of clear leadership has consigned the Iraqi operation to drown in the quagmire of missed opportunities, indecision, and self-defeating arrogance.

  2. Re-Institute the Draft. According to the Bush Administration, we (the U.S.) are engaged in two simultaneous wars; one in Iraq, and another in Afghanistan. Neither campaign has enough troops to complete the mission; the Army’s ranks alone need to swell by at least another 250,000 – 300,000 men. At no other time in U.S. history when we have fought a major war, has the standing Army not been bolstered by additional troops incorporated into its ranks by the tens of thousands. The Guard & Reserves is not the answer, we need a bigger force. It is both unfair and militarily unsound to ask the Guard & Reserve to do the work of regular Army troops over an extended period of time. The President has stated that all Americans must sacrifice to see these conflicts through; it’s time for all Americans to do just that no matter how politically unsavory it may prove.

  3. Additional Corps for 3rd U.S. Army. The U.S. Army is divided into Field Armies, of which it has three, and then further divided into Corps of which it has four, and then Divisions. A Field Army contains 2-5 Corps; just by casual observation one can see that the Army is short a few Corps. The Third U.S. Army currently operates in Iraq with some 135,000 men from the regular Army and Guard & Reserve. I propose four to five new Corps be formed of 40,000 – 50,000 men each, said Corps to be stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan for the duration of these conflicts, both under the command structure of the 3rd U.S. Army.

    These men would come from the re-constituted draft. The Guard & Reserve troops would be phased out of the theater and brought home, and all contracts with civilian security firms would end. Outsourcing vital military functions such as support of the troops in the rear, driving fuel and supply convoys, would also cease. In addition, all elements of the 10th Mountain Division would be deployed not to Iraq, where the fighting is confined to an urban setting, but to the mountainous southern and eastern Afghanistan where they can put their training to best use.

  4. Invite the International Community under the U.N banner into Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush needs to call for a summit in which all members of the U.N. are encouraged to participate, especially those nations directly contiguous to Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of Iraq, the U.N. should be given the leadership role in putting into place a government that will work for all parties involved. And the possibility of a viable split between the three factions—Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis—in order to form their own nation states should not be ruled out.

  5. The U.S. should ask for U.N Forces for both Afghanistan and Iraq, whose aim would be to bring stability back to both countries. Without security, there can be no stabilization, and without stabilization there can be no viable political process. The U.S. Army with its newly formed Corps should make up the bulk of the U.N force and maintain overall military command.

  6. Institute the Martin Plan for Mid-East Peace. Without peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there can be no quantifiable and lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Support for terrorism by Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon etc. has to cease. Take away this issue and a major source of hatred for the U.S. in the Muslim world would be extinguished.

  7. End reliance on Afghani militias by boosting U.S., NATO, and U.N. Troop strength (See point 2 above).

  8. Disarm Afghan militias. As long as they are allowed to exist, the power of the central government will be greatly diminished. By-and-large, they already rule the country outside of Kabul, by force. How can a credible Afghan government hold power without the trust of the population and the means to enforce breeches in the rule of law when it is confronted at every turn by dozens of private Army’s within its borders?

  9. Rein in the opium crop/trade in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has, according to recent reports, once more become the world’s number one grower of opium and exporter of heroin. This grossly undermines all of the wars we are waging; in Iraq, in Afghanistan (War on Terror) and the War on Drugs. New reports from Spain link the drug trade to terrorism as a means of financing their operations. How can a strategy to combat terrorism not include a plan to greatly diminish Afghanistan’s dependence on this crop?

  10. Broker a lasting settlement between India and Pakistan vis-à-vis the U.N. because their continuing conflict is destabilizing the entire region and diverts both countries’ attention away from the growing fundamentalist Islamic threat within their borders.

  11. Pressure the U.N., WTO, and World Bank to bring about real change in third world and developing nations by instituting measures to increase wages and benefits. No one could credibly argue that the grinding, pervasive poverty found in nations all over the world does not fuel resentment of first world nations and help swell the ranks of Islamic Fundamentalist movements and other groups whose aim it is to destabilize western civilization. The governments of these nations should be strongly persuaded to put the interest of their populations above all other concerns. And Multinational corporations should be put on notice that there is no country in the world they can set up shop that will sanction their unprincipled behaviors of putting profit above all other concerns. If countries work unilaterally to end the corporate exploitation nothing will change. Only through strength in numbers can a change be realized.

There can be little rational argument that the situation in Iraq is not rapidly spinning out of control. Operational Commanders are now stating as much. A number of problems led us here but underlining them all is an appalling lack of leadership emanating from the Oval Office, and from there the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. One could argue that it was grossly negligent to prosecute a war without a detailed plan in place; that was the over-arching lesson of Vietnam, our civilian led government failed to heed it. Further, the civilian leadership at the Pentagon in an effort to prove their “think-tank” inspired war plan would work, convinced an addlepated President to take this country to war against a sovereign nation, one which presented NO clear and present danger to the security of the United States.

Once engaged, the Iraq War seriously undermined—and continues to undermine—the so called War on Terror, and in my opinion increases the danger to America from terrorists. For either situation there is no end in sight, however by using the plan above as a blue-print, I believe we could extricate the U.S. from both countries within five years, not with out tails between our legs, but with our dignity intact having left both countries better off for our having been there.

Posted by V. Edward Martin at May 9, 2004 6:44 PM