WILL WITHDRAWALS BEGIN NEXT MONTH?….Lazy sack that I am, it’s taken until now for me to read through the entire ISG report. Now that I have, I find that their assessment of our military role in Iraq is one of the most interesting parts of the document. Here’s what they say about “Operation Together Forward II,” a recent attempt stabilize Baghdad:

The results of Operation Together Forward II are disheartening….U.S. forces can ?clear? any neighborhood, but there are neither enough U.S. troops present nor enough support from Iraqi security forces to ?hold? neighborhoods so cleared. The same holds true for the rest of Iraq. Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end.

Italics mine. That’s admirably clear, and their recommendation is that we halt futile operations like this and instead limit ourselves to assisting Iraq troops:

One of the most important elements of our support would be the imbedding of substantially more U.S. military personnel in all Iraqi Army battalions and brigades, as well as within Iraqi companies….Such a mission could involve 10,000 to 20,000 American troops instead of the 3,000 to 4,000 now in this role….By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.

It’s maddeningly unclear how many troops they think would still be left in Iraq at the end of this drawdown, since in addition to the embeds they suggest we would also maintain rapid-reaction forces, special operations forces, intelligence units, search-and-rescue units, transportation, air support, logistics support, and force protection units. But certainly it would be a small number compared to the 150,000 troops we have now, probably no more than 50-80,000 or so.

So here’s the thing: the report clearly states that U.S. combat operations aren’t doing any good, and that therefore we should withdraw somewhere around 70-100,000 troops by the beginning of 2008. But my understanding is that force protection issues would compel an operation of this size to take at least 12 months. That means they’re recommending that we begin substantial withdrawals of combat units by the first quarter of 2007. That’s next month ? or perhaps two or three months from now at the latest.

Is that really what they’re suggesting? Are they just being coy by not saying this outright in the report, even though the arithmetic is inescapable? And did they made this clear to President Bush when they briefed him a couple of days ago?