Tuesday, March 28, 2006
How the Pentagon's exit plan for Iraq might work
As we contemplate the turnover of military operations and command to the Iraqi army—"the plan" proposed by the Pentagon and White House—the date of the turnover is obviously uppermost in everyone's mind. So it may be well to check how another of our exit plans is going, just to get an idea of the timeframe.
Unknown to most Americans the U.S. is still in charge of the South Korean military in time of war. And the South Korean government is beginning to wonder when they might have their soldiers back. According to William Mann of the AP,
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has been talking since January about negotiating a way for homegrown officers to recover wartime command of South Korea's military. He specified in a speech to cadets at the Korea Military Academy this month that he hoped the turnover would come this year.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke to the matter just last week, and his tone suggested that we should all be cautiously optimistic—
... everyone agrees that 55 years after the [Korean] war, it's reasonable that the South Korean forces would increasingly take on more and more responsibility.
Well, actually not quite everyone—
Asked whether he thought the change in command structure could start this year, Rumsfeld replied: "No, no, I don't at all."
As in Iraq, there's a lot of work ahead, but the South Koreans are coming along and may be able to run their own army in a century or two—
"The South Korean government has raised the question as to when might it be appropriate to transfer responsibility to the Korean command, and that is something that gets discussed," Rumsfeld said Thursday.
He said no time has been set for the turnover, but South Korean forces already are taking increasing responsibilities. "They're doing that," he said, "and as they continue to take on more and more responsibility, the United States will be able to reduce its troops."
Meanwhile we must remain firm—
He said he had not heard that [South Korean President] Roh had suggested a 2006 agreement on a turnover, which he said will not happen.
His impression from conversations with Korean officials and cables he has read, Rumsfeld said, "is that they want the subject raised - which we do, too; we think that's just fine - and then we'd set about a path to see that the South Korean military evolves into a position where it would be appropriate for them to have that control."
The vital consideration is not to inject instability into the peninsula, Rumsfeld said. Before the Koreans can assume the responsibility, he said, they must "make investments and increase their capabilities."
The U.S. currently has 29,500 troops in South Korea—about a quarter of the number in Iraq. The good news is that they're not being slaughtered. The bad news is that there's some attrition due to age-related infirmities.