US military reversing Iraq troop surge

Updated: 2007-11-13 14:17

WASHINGTON -- The first big test of security gains linked to the US troop buildup in Iraq is at hand. The military has started to reverse the 30,000-strong troop increase and commanders are hoping the drop in insurgent and sectarian violence in recent months -- achieved at the cost of hundreds of lives -- won't prove fleeting.

US army soldiers detain a suspect in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Azamiyah, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007. US and Iraqi army soldiers, along with an armed group of local citizens, patrolled the streets of the troubled, predominantly Sunni, neighborhood Saturday, detaining several suspects. [Agencies]

The current total of 20 combat brigades is shrinking to 19 as the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, operating in volatile Diyala province, leaves. The US command in Baghdad announced on Saturday that the brigade had begun heading home to Fort Hood, Texas, and that its battle space will be taken by another brigade already operating in Iraq.

Between January and July -- on a schedule not yet made public -- the force is to shrink further to 15 brigades. The total number of US troops will likely go from 167,000 now to 140,000-145,000 by July, six months before President Bush leaves office and a new commander in chief enters the White House.

As the US troop reductions proceed, it should become clear whether the so-called "surge" strategy that increased the US troop presence in and around Baghdad resulted in any lasting gains against sectarianism. Critics note that the divided government in Baghdad has made few, if any, strides toward political reconciliation that the Americans have said is crucial to stabilizing the country.

The acceleration of the US mission away from direct combat to more of a support role will put greater pressure on Iraqi security forces to bear more of the load. And it will test the durability of new US alliances with neighborhood watch groups springing up with surprising speed.

Declines in Iraqi civilian and US military casualties in the past few months and talk among US commanders of an emerging air of optimism and civic revival in some Baghdad neighborhoods point to positive security trends.

Although more US troops have died in Iraq this year -- at least 856 -- than in any year since the war began in 2003, the monthly count has declined substantially since summer. Iraqi civilian deaths also have declined. At least 3,861 Americans have died in the Iraq war since it started.

A key question is whether security will slip once US lines thin and whether Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq and orchestrator of the counterinsurgency strategy, has made enough inroads against insurgents -- and instilled enough hope in ordinary Iraqis -- to make the gains stick.

   1 2   

Top World News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours