NEW YORK (Reuters) – President George W. Bush’s decision to mount a troop “surge” in Iraq last year was taken against the initial recommendations of his top advisers, including his field commander, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.
Bush’s January 2007 decision to send an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq was criticized for deepening the unpopular conflict but has since been credited with sharply reducing the violence.
Citing secret memorandums and interviews with a host of current and former officials, the Times said Bush’s decision to increase troops for a counterinsurgency in Iraq came after months of tumultuous debate within the administration.
Bush’s tendency to defer to commanders in the field and his defense secretary had delayed a new approach to Iraq until the situation bordered on anarchy and “civil war,” as a late 2006 CIA analysis termed it, the Times reported. At that point the Pentagon was in favor of moving responsibility to Iraqi forces, facilitating U.S. troop reductions.
The State Department was pushing an alternative plan to fight al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, reining in Baghdad’s violence and stemming sectarian violence only when it reached the level of “mass killing,” the Times reported. The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad was arguing for authority to negotiate a political solution with the Iraqis.
“The proposals to send more U.S. forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable,” the newspaper quoted ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as writing in a classified cable.
Members of the National Security Council staff made the initial effort to explore a possible troop increase, and a staff member, retired Navy Capt. William Luti was asked to quietly find out if forces were available, the Times said.
A confidential briefing titled “Changing the Dynamics: Surge and Fight, Create Breathing Space and Then Accelerate the Transition” was submitted in October 2006 after consultation with Army staff. It called for a substantial troop increase, or about five brigades, to Baghdad and other hot spots.
The troop reinforcement proposal split the U.S. military, with some officers supporting the idea, but aides to the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggesting the army was stretched too thin.
Three days after the 2006 midterm congressional elections, the White House convened a formal government-wide review to look into increasing the troop level in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation on November 6 removed some institutional resistance to the “surge” at the Pentagon, the Times said.
Top aides at a November 22 White House meeting outlined an “emerging consensus” on the route ahead, citing widespread agreement that success in Iraq was critical for the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.
A document prepared for the review stated, “Our center of gravity — public support — is in jeopardy because of doubts that our Iraq efforts are on a trajectory leading to success,” the Times reported.
At the same time, a classified Joint Chiefs of Staff paper argued for “accelerating Iraqis into ‘operational lead,”‘ and proposed measures including assigning one U.S. brigade to each Iraqi division to improve Iraqi troops’ performance.
Even after Bush announced his decision on January 10, the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, never sought more than two brigades, about 8,000 troops in all, the paper said.