With Democratic Party presidential nominee Barrack Obama declaring last night “the surge succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” in a high profile interview on Fox News, and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin claiming twice in her speech the night before that victory in Iraq is “within sight,” the casual observer could be forgiven for believing that the Iraq War is at an end. Indeed, one year ago this month General David Petraeus testified that the military objectives of the surge had been met and proposed the start of a drawdown to pre-surge levels. Since that time the Bush Administration has done nothing to contradict this view, crowing loudly at every public opportunity that the surge is a success and has brought security to Iraq.
At the peak of the surge, there were 168,000 American troops in Iraq. In his testimony last September, Gen. Petraeus predicted that number could return to the pre-surge level of around 130,000 by summer of 2008. But in April, Gen. Petraeus recommended a pause in the troop drawdown in July, citing the “fragile and reversible” nature of the “gains”. President Bush agreed, and announced a “45-day freeze” in troop cuts to begin in July. The AP reported at the time that this “virtually guarantees that more than 100,000” troops will remain in Iraq when the next President takes office.
Today, there are 146,000 troops in Iraq… still above pre-surge levels. With the aforementioned freeze scheduled to end, the Pentagon has recommended that the President extend the “pause” through the remainder of his administration, and that perhaps “up to 7,500” troops could be withdrawn sometime between late January and early February of 2009.
Not that the troops will be coming home. Under the plan, some 4,500 of them would be sent to Afghanistan to contend with the escalation of violence in that country. Even this is a far cry from the three additional brigades that Admiral Michael Mullen has said are required in Afghanistan, leaving one to wonder: with the army already strained and the Iraq War dragging on, where will the administration find these additional troops for an Afghan surge?