Infighting over Iraq continues at Pentagon

A new Los Angeles Times report explores a divide over troop levels.

By Alex Koppelman
Published March 20, 2008 6:11PM (EDT)

As we observed when Adm. William Fallon decided to retire early, concern over Fallon's departure from U.S. Central Command might have been better directed at what it meant for the health of the U.S. military than what it meant for the potential of a U.S. attack against Iran. A new Los Angeles Times article about divisions within the Pentagon over troop levels in Iraq highlights the issue and the role Fallon played in those discussions.

"Inside the Pentagon, turmoil over the war has increased. Top levels of the military leadership remain divided over war strategy and the pace of troop cuts. Tension has risen along with concern over the strain of unending cycles of deployments," the Times reports.

In one camp are the ground commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, who have pushed to keep a large troop presence in Iraq, worried that withdrawing too quickly will allow violence to flare. In the other are the military service chiefs who fear that long tours and high troop levels will drive away mid-level service members, leaving the Army and Marine Corps hollowed out and weakened ...

In the short run, supporters of Petraeus would like to see about 140,000 troops, including 15 combat brigades, remain in Iraq through the end of the Bush administration.

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their advisors favor a faster drawdown. Some are pushing for a reduction to 12 brigades or fewer by January 2009, which would amount to approximately 120,000 troops, depending on the configuration of forces ...

"Fallon wanted to withdraw forces from Iraq much faster than Gen. Petraeus," said one former Defense official who remains involved in Iraq policy. "Fallon was in sync with what the Joint Chiefs' desires were. And that enhanced the Joint Chiefs' position, because Fallon was a real war fighter, like Petraeus."

The Times also mentions, however, that Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, agrees with Fallon, and has made his position clear in public statements recently. The Times also seems to imply that Defense Secretary Robert Gates may share Mullen's concern, and may have picked him for that reason.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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