A new strategy for Iraq
Iraq will again dominate the issues confronting the Pentagon in 2007. The single most important priority is to develop a new strategy that will allow the U.S. military to at least begin withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Pentagon officials say that will be the primary focus of the new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for the next two years.
The Pentagon did launch the new "surge” strategy, aimed at bringing down Iraq violence and beginning the drawdown of American forces. The surge deployed five additional combat brigades – 30,000 more troops – into Baghdad for a major offensive against insurgents, al- Qaida terrorists and sectarian militias.
'Do or Die Strategy'
In what one senior military official calls the "Do or Die Strategy," the U.S. would attempt to force the Iraqis to takeover the fight and get U.S. combat forces out of the middle of the civil war.
Under current planning there would actually be a short-term increase in the number of American forces on the ground in Iraq - an additional 20-30,000 troops. Their task will not be to turn up U.S. combat activities but to provide embedded military trainers with Iraqi forces so they can takeover the fight. American combat troops would withdraw from most urban areas, including Baghdad, which would put the responsibility of controlling armed Shia militias squarely on the back of the predominately Shia government.
The surge strategy drafted by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, was actually a far more aggressive strategy than the initial military plans.
U.S. combat troops not only took the lead in clearing enemy forces out of the most violent areas of Baghdad, but in addition, alongside Iraqi security forces, set up camp in those areas to keep the enemy from returning. By all accounts the results have been dramatic. The overall levels of violence and attacks on U.S. forces have dropped to their lowest levels in more than two years.
The 'other war'
Afghanistan is likely to heat up. Following a resurgence of Taliban and al-Qaida attacks in Afghanistan in 2006, U.S. and NATO-led coalition forces are planning an aggressive offensive against the Taliban in their remote southern strongholds. The U.S. will also keep pressure on neighboring Pakistan to deny the Taliban and al-Qaida safe havens. And what about Osama Bin Laden? The hunt is still on.
Unfortunately the level of violence in Afghanistan soared to its highest since the initial U.S. invasion six years ago. Roadside bomb attacks, suicide bombings and the number of American forces killed in Afghanistan are at record levels.
U.S. intelligence estimates that despite heavy losses on the battlefield, the ranks of the Taliban have swelled to the highest number yet, up to 20,000 full and part-time fighters. Al-Qaida is also said to be making a comeback in Afghanistan. At the same time Pakistani military efforts to eliminate Taliban and al-Qaida safe havens in western Pakistan have failed. And bin Laden is still at large.
Need to re-fuel the batteries
The Pentagon will also be faced with the task of rebuilding and repairing a military severely stressed out by the war. Some military forces have deployed as many as five times to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tanks, trucks, Humvees have been destroyed or are breaking down at record rates after nearly four years of wear and tear and war.
The stress on U.S. military forces has only grown more severe in 2007. To meet the demands of the surge, the usual 12-month combat tours in Iraq were extended to 15-months for all Army troops, increasing the stress on the soldiers and the hardship on their families.
Don't forget the global war on terror
The global war against terrorists and Islamic extremists will remain at the top of the Pentagon's agenda, even if much of those U.S. military operations fail to make the headlines. U.S. Special Operations Forces will continue to work with the governments and militaries of developing nations, particularly in Africa, in an effort to prevent terrorist groups from getting a toehold in the most vulnerable countries.
A major offensive led by U.S. Special Operations Forces dealt a serious blow to al-Qaida in Iraq. Most of the al-Qaida top leadership has been killed or captured and it's network seriously disrupted. U.S. military officials caution however that al-Qaida in Iraq is still capable of carrying out what they call “spectacular” suicide bombings, aimed primarily at Iraqi civilians.
The Pentagon has established an entirely new combatant command named "AFRICOM" which stands for African Command. The goal is to firmly engage the United States with the governments of some of the more unstable African nations to counter efforts by al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations to establish safe havens in those largely "ungoverned" remote areas of Africa.
Regain ‘soft power’
Inherent in everything the Pentagon and U.S. military pursue in 2007 will be an effort to regain whatever the U.S. may have lost in worldwide prestige and reputation during the war in Iraq.
:Defense Secretary Robert Gates laid out a new strategy for the so-called "Soft War" which called for putting more U.S. money and emphasis into a diplomatic, economic and political offensive in underdeveloped nations threatened by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups
Jim Miklaszewski is NBC News' Chief Pentagon correspondent based in Washington, D.C. Click here to see his predictions for 2008.