May 27, 2010:
For the first time since 2003, there are more American troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq (or Kuwait). As of May 24, there were 94,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and 92,000 in Iraq. In the last two years, American troop strength in Afghanistan has gone from 30,000 to nearly 100,000 (a number that will be reached by the end of the year). In that same time, troop strength in Iraq has gone from 150,000 to, in a few months, 50,000.
U.S. troops in Iraq have not been allowed to do much lately. A year ago, Iraq insisted that as of last July 1st, most of the 130,000 U.S. troops there remain on their 300 bases. Many American commanders concluded that there was no longer much need for a large U.S. force in Iraq. The enemy was not completely destroyed, and the Iraqi government was still corrupt and dysfunctional. But this is a common situation in this part of the world. It's a rough neighborhood. The feeling was that the Iraqis would get by on their own. Mission accomplished.
This was always the plan. It is, in fact, the standard approach to these situations. Once the enemy is defeated, and a new (friendly, or at least less hostile and warlike) government is able to defend itself, you go home. After World War II, the U.S. kept troops in Japan and Germany long after the fighting stopped, only because there was a new enemy (communist dictatorships) next door. But the Iraqis are content to depend on U.S. forces based in Kuwait next door. The Kuwaitis are glad to have the American presence, because many Iraqis still believe that Kuwait should be part of Iraq.
Iran threatens all the Arab states in the Persian Gulf area, which is why all those countries are eager to have an American presence, preferably just warships and aircraft. The Iranians are a threat, but not well armed. No one is expecting an Iranian blitzkrieg, but many believe that the Iranians will continue to make threats. Having some American troops in the way is seen as the best kind of insurance. The local Arabs were quite impressed with how the Americans handled Saddam's army, and the subsequent Islamic terror campaign. The Iranians have a long reputation as good fighters, but the Americans should be able to handle them.
Getting out of Iraq quickly is something that has been happening for over a year now. Every day, trucks and combat vehicles head for ports in Kuwait and Jordan, there to be shipped home, or to Afghanistan. Little of this equipment is being given to the Iraqis, who have their oil money, and have been told to buy what they need. Another reason for not leaving a lot of stuff for the Iraqis, is because much of it would be stolen.
While Sunni Arab terrorists make the most noise, with their continued terror bombings, the real danger is risk of civil war between Kurds and Arabs. If the U.S. decided to intervene there, it would mostly require air power, as the Kurds can outfight the Arabs on the ground.
By the end of the year, all but about 50 of those 300 bases will be evacuated by American troops, and turned over to the Iraqis. There will still be a lot of thieving going on here, but it doesn't pay to haul away structures and camp infrastructure. By the end of the year, there will be 50,000 American troops in Iraq, and maybe less. The job is done, and there is no point lingering.