[Marxism] The real size of the U.S. occupation force in Iraq
jbustelo at gmail.com
Mon Oct 15 12:01:20 MDT 2007
Yesterday's Frank Rich column in the New York Times contained a
couple of figures about Iraq that deserve attention, because so much is made
of the "inadequate" troop levels in Iraq, which is being used to justify a
massive expansion of the army to 48 brigades from the current 38-40. (I've
seen both figures in recent reports.) This is on top of an already
significant expansion -- under Clinton, the army was organized into 33
But back to Frank Rich's figures. One is that "private contractors"
in Iraq at 180,000 now outnumber the surged-up official occupation force of
160,000 U.S. troops. The other is that of those 180,000, some 48,000 are
It isn't clear whether these numbers are exact. Others say the
contractors number 160,000, of which 25,000 are engaged in security.
People should understand that not all the 160,000 "official" troops
are combat troops, only half or less are, organized in 20 brigades, or as
army nomenclature now has it, "Brigade Combat Teams." (What differentiates a
regular old brigade from a Brigade Combat Team? The BCT's do not rely on
divisional headquarters for various functions, thus have a much larger
headquarters element, and have a somewhat different mix of forces, with more
reconnaissance. The old brigade was an integral part of 15,000-troop
divisions designed to fight a major conventional war [i.e., the Soviets in
Germany]. The new doctrine is designed for autonomous brigade operations in
the colonial and semicolonial world.)
BCT's have around 4,000 troops, and although "security" contractors
are not organized into such large formations, they are nevertheless armed
and perform primarily strictly and distinctly military functions. Thus,
whereas U.S. diplomatic missions in most of the world are guarded by
Marines, in Iraq the diplomats are guarded by Blackwater. Even some of the
generals in Iraq have mercenaries (for that is what they really are) as
bodyguards rather than GI's.
Thus the actual occupation force is 20 brigades engaged in offensive
and counterinsurgency operations and the equivalent of 6-12 more brigades
worth of troops in largely defensive roles.
And of course, then there's the other 130,000 contractors. They
operate all the logistical stuff that in Vietnam and earlier wars was mostly
handled by troops, everything from driving trucks to deliver bullets, water
and gasoline to doing the laundry and running the kitchens.
And in addition, there are tens of thousands of additional support
troops (and an unknown number of contractors) in Kuwait and other
neighboring countries. A recent Time magazine article reports that there are
nearly 15,000 troops in various bases in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain
and Qatar. Another published report puts the troops stationed in Kuwait at
15,000, though this figure seems low to me. And many thousands more are
aboard ships in the Persian Gulf (an aircraft carrier alone has more than
5,500 people on board, and support cruisers and destroyers another 400 each
or so. Amphibious assault strike groups have about 2700 (between marines and
sailors) in the lead ship alone, and I believe there are two such strike
groups there now. That puts the number of U.S. armed forces personnel in
the Gulf region at well over 200,000.
Assuming a conservative 4:3 ratio of support contractor personnel to
U.S. troops, the additional 40,000+ U.S. military in the region outside Iraq
would mean an additional 30,000 contract personnel to be added to the
180,000 within Iraq. All told, a force of more than 400,000, and that's no
counting those involved in the logistics operations being run out of Turkey
The 160,000 "official" troops in Iraq may be more than the tip of
the iceberg, but they are far from the whole story. The actual fighting
force is roughly comparable to that deployed in Vietnam, in the ballpark at
any rate, rather than being qualitatively smaller as the comparison of
550,000 troops in Indochina versus 160,000 in Iraq would seem to imply.
Rich in his column raises a "nightmare" scenario involving
especially the in-country contractors. Members of the armed forces are
integrated into highly disciplined and controlled units and subject to even
the death penalty for desertion in war time. Civilian truck drivers and even
the real mercs, the socalled "security" contractors, are not nearly
similarly situated. If there is a sudden crisis or collapse in Iraq or just
Baghdad, the civilian logistics personnel --most of whom are Iraqis-- might
desert, leaving U.S. forces stranded.
Short of that nightmare scenario, the recent massacres by Blackwater
and other mercs were a disaster for the occupation. The protests by the U.S.
puppet regime is convincing testimony of the pressure it is under from the
And this is much more significant than may be apparent on the
surface, because winning a war is a *political* outcome, not a military one.
War is the *continuation* of politics by other means, not its *negation.*
The massacres and the reaction to them represent a tremendous DEFEAT for the
That is why Lt. Gral. Ricardo Sanchez, forced into retirement a year
ago, called the Iraq War a nightmare without end, saying no amount of
additional U.S. forces could bring victory, only stave off defeat. According
to the AP account of his recent speech, Sanchez said that "the US mission in
Iraq is a 'nightmare with no end in sight' because of political misjudgments
after the fall of Saddam Hussein that continue today."
That political misjudgment at bottom is the idea that colonialism
can be reimposed in this region today, even in the form of a nominally
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