Generals: Bush war will collapse within 6 months

Military chiefs give US six months to win Iraq war
Violence expected to rise after UK withdrawal
Troop numbers too low
Coalition is 'disintegrating'
Simon Tisdall
Wednesday February 28, 2007
Article Source Guardian Unlimited

An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

The officers - combat veterans who are leading experts in counter-insurgency - are charged with implementing the "new way forward" strategy announced by president George Bush on January 10. The plan includes a controversial "surge" of 21,500 additional American troops to establish security in the Iraqi capital and Anbar province.

But the team, known as the "Baghdad brains trust" and ensconced in the heavily fortified Green Zone around the US embassy, is struggling to overcome a range of entrenched problems in what has become a race against time, said a former senior administration official familiar with their deliberations. "They know they are operating under a clock. They know they are going to hear a lot more talk in Washington about 'Plan B' by the autumn - meaning withdrawal. They know the next six-month period is their opportunity. And they say it's getting harder every day," the former official said.

By improving security, the plan's short-term aim is to create time and space for the Iraqi government to bring rival Shia, Sunni and Kurd factions together in a process of national reconciliation, us officials say. If that works within the stipulated timeframe, longer-term schemes for rebuilding Iraq under the so-called "go long" strategy will be set in motion. But the next six months are make-or-break for both the US military and the Iraqi government.

The main obstacles confronting Gen Petraeus's team are:
Insufficent numbers of troops on the ground
A "disintegrating" international coalition
An anticipated upsurge in violence in the south as the British leave
Morale problems as casualties rise
A failure of political will in Washington and/or Baghdad

"The scene is very tense. They are working round the clock. Endless cups of tea with the Iraqis," the former senior administration official said. "But they're still trying to figure out what's the plan. The president is expecting progress. But they're thinking, what does he mean? The plan is changing every minute, as all plans do."

The team comprises an unusual mix of combat experience and high academic achievement. It includes Colonel Peter Mansoor, Gen Petraeus's executive officer and a former armoured division commander who holds a PhD in the history of infantry; Col H R McMaster, author of a well-known critique of Vietnam and a seasoned counter-insurgency operations chief; Lt-Col David Kilcullen, a seconded Australian army officer and expert on Islamism; and Col Michael Meese, son of the former US attorney-general, Edwin Meese, who was a member of the ill-fated Iraq Study Group.
Their biggest headache was insufficient numbers of troops on the ground despite the increase ordered by Mr Bush, the former official said. "We don't have the numbers for the counter-insurgency job even with the surge. The word 'surge' is a misnomer. Strategically, tactically, it's not a surge," an American officer said.

According to the US military's revised counter-insurgency field manual, FM 3-24, authored by Gen Petraeus, the optimum "troop-to-task" ratio for Baghdad requires 120,000 US and allied troops in the city alone. Current totals, even including often unreliable Iraqi units, fall short of that number. The deficit is even greater in conflict areas outside Baghdad.

"Additional troops are essential if we are to win," said Lt-Col John Nagel, another Petraeus confi

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