More Engineers to Iraq?I just saw the following from the Army Times:
The Pentagon is developing plans to send four combat engineer battalions of reserves to Iraq early next year to boost security in Baghdad, senior defense officials said Wednesday.
The battalion strength would total about 3,500 troops, officials said, adding that the units would come from around the United States and have already done a tour in Iraq. Officials said there has been no final decision on which battalions will go.
There are a couple of interesting things from this nugget. First, four combat engineer battalions is a lot of engineering manpower. The typical US division has a single engineer battalion for all of its needs (bridging, base construction, some communications work, field fortifications, minefield placement and disposal etc). The corps level force tends to be a field engineer brigade of three or four battalions. So four extra combat engineer battalions is a significant increase in the force.
Now the question is what can they be used for? The simplest use is that the US is prepping for Operation Lightening Part III/Operation Forward Together Part Deux -- another chomp and stomp sweep through Baghdad. Another US brigade equivilant is deploying to Baghdad from elsewhere in Iraq. The four additional engineer battalions deployed to Baghdad would presumably be used to build the Sewer/Water/Eletrical/Trash disposal infrastructure quickly and reliably in the newly cleared areas as part of a revived inkblot counterinsurgency strategy.
The second use of these four combat engineer battalions would be as second rate infantry battalions. Combat engineers have a long history of being used as infantry in a pinch; they have some of the basic skill sets, expect to operate under fire, and know which end of the rifle to point at the enemy. It is a waste of their special talents, equipment and training, but when there are no rested infantry units available, buying a six month breather for a brigade or two by using engineers might not sound like a bad idea.
The most intriguing case for this surge of engineering capacity into the theatre is it could be a hedge. If circumstances threaten the US supply lines to the south, and remember these supply lines are coming up just two highways through Sadrist controlled territory, and the US has to get significant forces out fast, the only way out is by going south on these routes. However these routes go across the Tigris River in several locations, and these bridges are located in major cities. Dropping major highway bridges was accomplished by the Mahdi Army in April and August of 2004, and all reports indicate that the Mahdi Army has increased its military capacity and skill level even as foreign troop levels that could conceivably keep the bridges open continue to drop. So if the US has to leave, or even if its supply lines are threatened by dropped bridges, those extra engineer battalions could be used to hedge against this possibility by their capability of rapidly building temporary bridges.
This is pure speculation at this point, but as things continue to devolve and the US loses allies in Iraq, it is thinking that needs to occur.