How Many Troops?

HOW MANY TROOPS?….Via Tapped, Edward Luttwak has an op-ed in the New York Times today that explains some realities about patrolling Iraq that are obvious but often overlooked. As he points out, the “headline number” for our presence in Iraq is 130,000 troops, which seems like an awful lot. Why do people keep talking about how thinly stretched we are?

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Total U.S. troops: 133,000.

  • Excluding support troops, total combat troops available for security duty: 56,000.

  • Given normal sleeping/eating activities, total troops available at any given time for patrol: 28,000.

That may still sound like a fair number, but even if you count only the large urban areas in the Sunni Triangle, these guys have to patrol a population of roughly 15 million people. That means there’s one soldier for every 500 people.

Still not convinced? Break it down again: it means that in, say, Fallujah, a city nearly the size of Pittsburgh, there are no more than a few hundred troops patrolling the streets at any given time.

A few hundred soldiers trying to cover several square miles and a quarter million people, half of whom are unemployed and many of whom are actively trying to kill you, isn’t very many. And that’s why even though 130,000 troops sounds like a lot, it isn’t.

Which is exactly what the army chief of staff said nine months ago. Unfortunately, sticking their fingers in their ears and refusing to hear bad news was the order of the day for the Pentagon brass back then. Their fingers seem to be slowly coming out now, but is it too late?