The US military and the Obama administration loudly trumpeted the withdrawal of the "last combat brigade" from Iraq last week, but news reports suggest the move is purely semantic: The combat brigades are still there, but under a different name.
The Army Times reported on Saturday that the US still has seven combat brigades inside Iraq, but they have been renamed "advise and assist brigades." The name change will reportedly change little in terms of the duties the brigades carry out:
The Army selected brigade combat teams as the unit upon which to build advisory brigades partly because they would be able to retain their inherent capability to conduct offensive and defensive operations, according to the ArmyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s security force assistance field manual, which came out in May 2009. This way, the brigade can shift the bulk of its operational focus from security force assistance to combat operations if necessary.
In Sunday's Washington Post, Kenneth M. Pollack argues that the claim there are no more US combat troops in Iraq is "not even close."
Of the roughly 50,000 American military personnel who remain in Iraq, the majority are still combat troops -- they're just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called "brigade combat teams" and instead will be called "advisory and assistance brigades." But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.
American troops in Iraq will still go into harm's way. They will still accompany Iraqi units on combat missions -- even if only as "advisers." American pilots will still fly combat missions in support of Iraqi ground forces. And American special forces will still face off against Iraqi terrorist groups in high-intensity operations. For that reason, when American troops leave their bases in Iraq, they will still, almost invariably, be in full "battle rattle" and ready for a fight.
Pollack's point was proven Sunday when a US soldier was killed near Basra, the first US troop death since the "withdrawal of combat troops" took place.
On Friday, US House representative and noted Iraq war opponent Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) dismissed the withdrawal announcement and reiterated his view that the war was "based on lies."
Who is in charge of our operations in Iraq, now? George Orwell? A war based on lies continues to be a war based on lies. Today, we have a war that is not a war, with combat troops who are not combat troops. In 2003, President Bush said ' Mission Accomplished.' In 2010, the White House says combat operations are over in Iraq, but will leave 50,000 troops, many of whom will inevitably be involved in combat-related activities.
The US military presence in Iraq may continue long after the end of 2011, when all American forces are supposed to depart under a security agreement.
Top military leaders in both countries acknowledge Iraq still may need help from the US armed forces after 2011.
"We're obviously open to that discussion," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week. "But that initiative will have to come from the Iraqis."
Iraq's top military officer told AFP last week that American forces may be needed for another decade.
A future accord with Iraq might include continued air patrols with US F-16s, as officials admit Baghdad's air force is a long way from being able to fend off attacks from fighter jets.
To make up for a scaled back US military force, Washington meanwhile plans to rely on large numbers of private security contractors, US officials said Thursday.
The State Department said it will double the number of contractors it employs in Iraq to about 7,000.
-- With a report from AFP