As the final convoy of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., entered Kuwait early Thursday, a different Stryker brigade remained in Iraq. Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division are deployed in Iraq as members of an Advise and Assist Brigade, the Army’s designation for brigades selected to conduct security force assistance.In addition, the Washington Post cautions that there is still a good chance of civil war.
So while the “last full U.S. combat brigade” have left Iraq, just under 50,000 soldiers from specially trained heavy, infantry and Stryker brigades will stay, as well as two combat aviation brigades.
The Army has three different standard brigade combat teams: infantry, Stryker and heavy. To build an Advise and Assist Brigade, the Army selects one of these three and puts it through special training before deploying. The Army selected brigade combat teams as the unit upon which to build advisory brigades partly because they would be able to retain their inherent capability to conduct offensive and defensive operations, according to the Army’s security force assistance field manual, which came out in May 2009. This way, the brigade can shift the bulk of its operational focus from security force assistance to combat operations if necessary.
Of the seven Advise and Assist Brigades still in Iraq, four are from the 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. The 1st Heavy Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, based at Fort Bliss, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson, Colo., are also serving as Advise and Assist Brigades. The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division is based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. A combat medic from that unit was killed Aug. 15 when his Stryker combat vehicle was hit with grenades, according to press reports. Two combat aviation brigades also remain in Iraq, according to Dan O’Boyle, Redstone Arsenal spokesman.
Security in Iraq has improved enormously since the darkest days of 2005-2006, but the jury is still out on what will happen in the months and years ahead. Extensive research on intercommunal civil wars -- wars like Iraq's, in which a breakdown in governance prompts different communities to fight one another for power -- finds a dangerous propensity toward recidivism. Moreover, the fear, anger, greed and desire for revenge that helped propel Iraq into civil war in the first place remain just beneath the surface.While we're thankful for those troops who will get to return home, the work is far from done. So we must continue to pay for and support the brave men and women who remain.
Academic studies of scores of civil wars from the past century show that roughly 50 percent of the time, war will recur within five years of a cease-fire. If the country has major "lootable" resources such as gold, diamonds or oil, the odds climb higher still. The important bright spot, however, is that if a great power is willing to make a long-term commitment to serving as peacekeeper and mediator (the role the United States is playing in Iraq today), the recidivism rate drops to less than one in three. This is why an ongoing American commitment to Iraq is so important.