September 08, 2003


I'd say Jim Henley, if anything, is being too optimistic. A significant Bangladeshi involvement in Iraq was never in the cards.

Forget "2-to-1 tooth-to-tail." When you're talking peacekeeping deployments of six months to a few years (as opposed to permanent garrisons like the US and Canada in Germany), no country has ever managed to sustain much above 4% of their total military manpower abroad. With Bangladesh, with 135,000 total in arms, that c. 5,000 deployable... and they're currently at 4,000 (500 in Kuwait with the Americans, 2,500 in Sierra Leone with the UN, 1,000 in Congo, also with the UN.) Plus there's their still unfulfilled Liberia commitment of another brigade upcoming.

The reason it never rises much above 4% is because the bulk of peacekeepers, no matter how you do it, are drawn from the trained infantry, which forms only a small portion of any country's total military force. Artillery, armour, combat support, air and naval resources have relatively limited applications.

(Rule of thumb: in most militaries, about one third of all military personnel are land combat units. About one third of those are infantry. About one third of those are deployable at any one time, with two thirds either training up or reconstituting. One-twentyseventh=3-4% at maximum effort.)

Bangladesh is able to keep its number close to the maximum over long periods because, like Canada it has no external enemies to speak of (although a high risk of monsoon-related domestic disasters), and has configured its armed forces largely for UN use, with higher numbers of infantry units relative to other countries. It does this largely because UN duty is a net money gainer for Bangladesh, which basically doesn't pay a dime whenever any of its forces are chosen for UN duty, as that's all covered by UN members' dues. They're Kofi Annan's Hessians, in effect.

Upshot: Bangladesh can't contribute even an understrength brigade (2-3 battalions) to Iraq, in addition to the 500 already supporting US operations in the Middle East, without at least getting the UN to scotch their Liberia commitment. For that to happen, in addition to a supportive UN resolution, the offered US per diem will have to be a lot higher than what the UN was paying to make it worth their time. Even then, I never thought they'd be good for more than one battalion, tops. (For the non-military: to have the division the US is currently missing in the spring troop rotation plan, you need ten battalions.)

Posted by BruceR at 11:13 AM