The U.S. military in Iraq is abandoning — deliberately and with little public notice — a centerpiece of the widely acclaimed strategy it adopted nearly two years ago to turn the tide against the insurgency. It is moving American troops farther from the people they are trying to protect.
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
Starting in early 2007, with Iraq on the brink of all-out civil war, the troops were pushed into the cities and villages as part of a change in strategy that included President Bush’s decision to send more combat forces.
The bigger U.S. presence on the streets was credited by many with allowing the Americans and their Iraqi security partners to build trust among the populace, thus undermining the extremists’ tactics of intimidation, reducing levels of violence and giving new hope to resolving the country’s underlying political conflicts.
Now the Americans are reversing direction, consolidating in larger bases outside the cities and leaving security in the hands of the Iraqis while remaining within reach to respond as the Iraqi forces require.
The U.S. is on track to complete its shift out of all Iraqi cities by June 2009. That is one of the milestones in a political-military campaign plan devised in 2007 by Gen. David Petraeus, when he was the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and his political partner in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The goal also is in a preliminary security pact with the Iraqi government on the future U.S. military presence.
The shift is not explicitly linked to U.S. plans for increasing its military presence in Afghanistan, but there is an important connection: The logistical resources needed to house and supply a larger and more distributed U.S. force in Afghanistan have been tied up in Iraq. To some extent that will be relieved with the consolidation of U.S. forces in Iraq onto larger, outlying bases that are easier to maintain.