Monday, March 12, 2007
The "El Salvador Option"
For a couple of months, military strategists have been pushing a plan that -- they boast -- is reminiscent of the U.S. strategy in El Salvador in the 1980's.
Those who favor such a plan surely realize how the rest of the world views the human rights abuses that marked that Reagan-era policy, and should at least have the common sense to call it something else.
American military planners have begun plotting a fallback strategy for Iraq that includes a gradual withdrawal of forces and a renewed emphasis on training Iraqi fighters in case the current troop buildup fails or is derailed by Congress.
Such a strategy, based in part on the U.S. experience in El Salvador in the 1980s, is still in the early planning stages and would be adjusted to fit the outcome of the current surge in troop levels, according to military officials and Pentagon consultants who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing future plans.
But a drawdown of forces would be in line with comments to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month that if the "surge" fails, the backup plan would include moving troops "out of harm's way." Such a plan also would be close to recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member before his appointment as Defense Department chief.
A strategy following the El Salvador model would be a dramatic break from President Bush's current policy of committing large numbers of U.S. troops to aggressive counterinsurgency tactics, but it has influential backers within the Pentagon. ...
The El Salvador case study contrasts with the soldier-heavy example of Vietnam and the current buildup in Iraq. In El Salvador, the U.S. sent 55 Green Berets to aid the Salvadoran military in its fight against rebels from 1981 to 1992, when peace accords were signed.
Years after, the U.S. role in El Salvador remains controversial. Some academics have argued that the U.S. military turned a blind eye to government-backed death squads, or even aided them. But former advisors and military historians argue that the U.S. gradually professionalized the Salvadoran army and curbed the government's abuses.
El Salvador veterans and experts have been pushing for the model it provides of a smaller, less visible U.S. advisory presence.
In recent congressional hearings and in private Pentagon meetings, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made several references to the El Salvador campaign. The senior Pentagon official said Pace's repeated references were a signal that in the chairman's view, success in Iraq may not depend on more combat troops.
Although Pentagon officials said the effort in Iraq would have to be much larger than the 55 advisors used in El Salvador, that model has influenced planning. Officials note that they are thinking about using thousands of advisors — although not tens of thousands — in the next phase of Iraq strategy.