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Gates on Iraq

Two documents seized from Al Qaeda in Iraq members and released by coalition forces reveal that the world’s most deadly terrorist organization has fallen on hard times. As summed up in this news story:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an ‘extraordinary crisis’. Last year’s mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military ‘created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight’. The terrorist group’s security structure suffered ‘total collapse’.

While down, Al Qaeda is hardly out. Its terrorists continue to perpetrate atrocities such as employing women with Down’s syndrome as unwitting suicide bombers. Gruesome stories like that serve as a powerful reminder of the need to continue fighting and fighting hard. Taking too many American troops out of Iraq too fast could allow these monsters to get back on their feet, so it is good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is endorsing a pause on further withdrawals after our troop levels go down to 15 Brigade Combat Teams (from the current 19) by the end of July.

After meeting with General David Petraeus, who favors such a pause, Gates said:

I think the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense. I must say that in my own thinking I have been . . . heading in that direction as well.

In the past Gates has talked about reducing troop levels even more later this year, so it’s comforting to hear that he seems to be backing off. The only worrisome aspect of his comment is the modifier “brief” before the phrase “period of consolidation.” It may well turn out that to continue making progress in Iraq we may need to keep 15 BCT’s in Iraq (about 140,000 troops) for a considerable period. Gates would do well to prepare the public for that possibility.