Troop drawdown on target but do not expect the Iraq Tax to go away soon

iraqImage by The U.S. Army via Flickr

Armed Forces Press Service reports on July 21 that the military is on track to meet its drawdown goals in Iraq, and that there will be plenty of troops left until the end of 2011 to help Iraq become fully independent. “I feel very comfortable that we will be at 50,000, probably by the last week of August,” Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said during a Defense Writers Group breakfast here followed by a Pentagon press briefing. Troop strength probably will stay around 50,000 through next summer, even though all U.S. forces are to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011, he said.

Gen. Odierno ticked through the numbers that underscore the mammoth task of leaving Iraq, reported here by CNN:

16 – US bases still to be handed over to Iraq

500 – US bases closed or turned over since 2007

20,000 – vehicles sent to Afghanistan

50,000 – anticipated troop level on Sept 1, 2010

70,000 – current troop level

75,000 – Troops who have left Iraq since January 2009

1,200,000 – pieces of equipment removed from the country

Okay — hold on — before you let out that sigh of relief, we should note that President Obama’s nominee to be the next US ambassador to Baghdad, James Jeffrey was also at the SFRC for his nomination hearing just the day before. Below is part of what he said in his prepared statement:

Our policy goals in Iraq remain ambitious and of long-term strategic importance to our own country. We must be sure that the resources available to the U.S. mission are adequate for the work that lies ahead. This will be an ongoing subject of discussion with the Congress. We have paid particular attention to the impact of the drawdown of U.S. forces on programs under military control that will shift to civilian responsibility. We have worked closely with the U.S.military for months to ensure that we have identified all essential tasks that should transition to civilian agencies under Chief of Mission authority. The financial and personnel requirements for some programs will be substantial. For example, the State Department will take over responsibility for police training from the Department of Defense on October 1, 2011, after which the State Deparment, with appropriate contributions from the Government of Iraq, will direct and fund police development providing senior level advising and mentoring and specialized skills training.
In line with our determination to build up the civilian side of our relationship with Iraq, we intend to support a robust diplomatic presence nationwide. Our presence will have a significant budget profile because of security and life support expenses. None of this is news to the Congress, but it is perhaps worth repeating that our work in Iraq is unfinished, and, indeed, will require a major commitment of resources from the United States for the perhaps five years as we help Iraq establish itself as a fully sovereign, stable and self-reliant state.

On a related note, the Commission on Wartime Contracting also released last week its Special Report on Iraq Transition Planning and concludes that Better planning for Defense-to-State transition in Iraq needed to avoid mistakes and waste.

Part of its report talks about State addressing some implications of the lost-functionality that comes with the Iraq drawdown and reprinted part of Ambassador Kennedy’s April 7, 2010 letter to DoD:

After the departure of U.S. Forces [from Iraq], we will continue to have a critical need for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that is unprecedented in the history of the Department of State. … And to keep our people secure, Diplomatic Security requires certain items of equipment that are only available from the military. [Emphasis added]
State’s initial request for equipment included 24 UH-60 helicopters, four refueling trucks and trailers, 50 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles, and security equipment for perimeter security and observation. Without the military equipment, Ambassador Kennedy wrote, State would “essentially have to duplicate the capabilities of the U.S. military” using less effective gear, so “As a result, the security of [State] personnel in Iraq will be degraded significantly and we can expect increased casualties.” [Emphasis added]
Although State has about 2,700 private security contractors in Iraq and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is hiring more security specialists, a State Department official testified at a June 2010 Commission hearing that the Department will need “between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors” for the future—more than doubling its current PSC numbers. With such a large increase in contract employees, existing weaknesses in contract management and oversight, not to mention funding and hiring challenges, can only grow more troublesome.

So there it is.

Bottom line — the US Embassy in Baghdad will most probably get bigger before it’ll get smaller. With approximately 1400 employees currently staffing the embassy in Iraq, that will be 7,000 employees rotating in/out of the embassy in the next five years on one year tours. And that’s just in Iraq. And that does not include security contractors.  And we have not forgotten the civilian surge in Afghanistan and the perhaps  inevitable surge of more one-year assignments in Pakistan.

The thing is — the total number of the US Foreign Service, the diplomatic arm of the U.S. Government is approximately 11,500 (6,500 Foreign Service Officers and 5,000 Foreign Service Specialists).

If that is not challenging enough — in about two years, approximately 5,500 of State Department employees including some 3,800 Foreign Service employees will be retirement eligible in FY2012

And so there it is. I don’t think that the staffing requirement under the current numbers and assignment system is actually sustainable.  Are we going to see more directed assignments in the near future or a flurry of 3161 hirings?