[Homestead] NYTimes.com Article: 'Catastrophic Success': The Strategy to Secure Iraq Did Not Foresee a 2nd War
tvoivozd at roanoke.infi.net
tvoivozd at roanoke.infi.net
Tue Oct 19 08:21:52 EDT 2004
The article below from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by tvoivozd at roanoke.infi.net.
Extracting defeat from victory is a Bush family trait. Bush I did it in in Desert Storm, Bush II did it in 2003.
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'Catastrophic Success': The Strategy to Secure Iraq Did Not Foresee a 2nd War
October 19, 2004
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
Gen. Tommy R. Franks climbed out of a C-130 plane at the
Baghdad airport on April 16, 2003, and pumped his fist into
the air. American troops had pushed into the capital of
liberated Iraq little more than a week before, and it was
the war commander's first visit to the city.
Much of the Sunni Triangle was only sparsely patrolled, and
Baghdad was still reeling from a spasm of looting. Apache
attack helicopters prowled the skies as General Franks
headed to the Abu Ghraib North Palace, a retreat for Saddam
Hussein that now served as the military's headquarters.
Huddling in a drawing room with his top commanders, General
Franks told them it was time to make plans to leave. Combat
forces should be prepared to start pulling out within 60
days if all went as expected, he said. By September, the
more than 140,000 troops in Iraq could be down to little
more than a division, about 30,000 troops.
To help bring stability and allow the Americans to exit,
President Bush had reviewed a plan the day before seeking
four foreign divisions - including Arab and NATO troops -
to take on peacekeeping duties.
As the Baghdad meeting drew to a close, the president in a
teleconference congratulated the commanders on a job well
done. Afterward, they posed for photos and puffed on
Within a few months, though, the Bush administration's
optimistic assumptions had been upended. Many of the
foreign troops never came. The Iraqi institutions expected
to help run the country collapsed. The adversary that was
supposed to have been shocked and awed into submission was
reorganizing beyond the reach of overstretched American
In the debate over the war and its aftermath, the Bush
administration has portrayed the insurgency that is still
roiling Iraq today as an unfortunate, and unavoidable,
accident of history, an enemy that emerged only after
melting away during the rapid American advance toward
Baghdad. The sole mistake Mr. Bush has acknowledged in the
war is in not foreseeing what he termed that "catastrophic
But many military officers and civilian officials who
served in Iraq in the spring and summer of 2003 say the
administration's miscalculations cost the United States
valuable momentum - and enabled an insurgency that was in
its early phases to intensify and spread.
"I think that there were Baathist Sunnis who planned to
resist no matter what happened and at all cost, but we
missed opportunities, and that drove more of them into the
resistance," Jay Garner, the first civilian administrator
of Iraq and a retired Army lieutenant general, said in an
interview, referring to the Baath Party of Mr. Hussein and
to his Sunni Muslim supporters. "Things were stirred up far
more than they should have been. We did not seal the
borders because we did not have enough troops to do that,
and that brought in terrorists."
A senior officer who served in Iraq but did not want to be
identified because of the sensitivity of his position said:
"The real question is, did there have to be an insurgency?
Did we help create the insurgency by missing the window of
opportunity in the period right after Saddam was removed
Looking back at that crucial time, those officers,
administration officials and others provided an intimate
and detailed account of how the postwar situation went
awry. Civilian administrators of the Iraqi occupation
raised concerns about plans to reduce American forces;
intelligence agencies left American forces unprepared for
the furious battles they encountered in Iraq's southern
cities and did not emphasize the risks of a postwar
insurgency. And senior American generals and civilians were
at odds over plans to build a new Iraqi army, which was
needed to impose order.
The First Principles
In August 2002, leading administration officials circulated
a top-secret document blandly titled, "Iraq: Goals,
Objectives and Strategy." Months of wrangling at the United
Nations were still ahead, but senior officials were
drafting the principles that would guide the invasion if
the president gave the order to strike.
The goals for Iraq were far-reaching. The aim was not just
to topple a dictator, but also to build a democratic
system. The United States would preserve, but reform, the
bureaucracies that did the day-to-day work of running the
country. There were some unstated objectives as well.
Policy makers hoped that installing a pro-American
government would put pressure on Syria to stop supporting
terrorist groups and Iran to halt its nuclear weapons
But grand goals did not mean huge forces. From the start,
the Pentagon's plan to invade Iraq was a striking contrast
to the doctrine for using military power that was developed
by Colin L. Powell when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. Instead of assembling a giant invasion force over
six months, as he did in the Persian Gulf war in 1991, the
administration intended to attack with a much smaller force
as reinforcements were still streaming to the Middle East.
The strategy was consistent with Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfeld's push to transform the military so it would
rely less on heavy ground troops and more on technology,
intelligence and special operations forces.
Mr. Rumsfeld had long been impatient with what he thought
was a plodding, risk-averse and overly costly way of waging
war. At General Franks's Central Command, planners thought
that the new approach was necessary for another reason: to
catch the Iraqis by surprise and prevent any efforts to
sabotage the oil fields or stiffen their Baghdad defenses.
"Almost everybody worried about what would happen if the
war were prolonged," Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary
of defense, said in an interview. "This highlighted the
importance of speed and surprise. It argued for this
unusual and creative way of starting the war, with fewer
forces than Saddam expected us to have and to have the flow
continue after the war started."
If the Iraqi Army mounted a tougher fight than anticipated,
Mr. Feith said, the Pentagon could continue to send forces.
If the resistance was light, as many civilian aides
expected, Washington could stop the troop flow. There would
be "off ramps," in the vernacular of the Pentagon.
Achieving the administration's ambitions meant dealing with
any turmoil that followed the collapse of Mr. Hussein's
government and his iron-fisted security services.
Administration officials assumed that American and
multinational troops would help stabilize Iraq, but they
also believed that the newly liberated Iraqis would share
"The concept was that we would defeat the army, but the
institutions would hold, everything from ministries to
police forces," Condoleezza Rice, the president's national
security adviser, said in an interview. "You would be able
to bring new leadership but that we were going to keep the
body in place."
Some military men, though, were worried that the
administration would be caught short. Gen. Hugh Shelton,
who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during
the first nine months of the Bush administration, was one
General Shelton had contacts in the Middle East who had
warned that Iraq could devolve into chaos after Mr. Hussein
At a Pentagon meeting early in 2003 with former chairmen of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former vice chairmen and their
successors, he voiced concerns that the United States would
not have sufficient troops immediately after the dictator
was ousted. He cautioned that it was important to have
enough troops to deal with the unexpected.
At the White House, officials also were thinking about how
many troops would be needed.
Military aides on the National Security Council prepared a
confidential briefing for Ms. Rice and her deputy, Stephen
J. Hadley, that examined what previous nation-building
efforts had required.
The review, called "Force Security in Seven Recent
Stability Operations," noted that no single rule of thumb
applied in every case. But it underscored a basic principle
well known to military planners: However many forces might
be required to defeat the foe, maintaining security
afterward was determined by an entirely different set of
calculations, including the population, the scope of the
terrain and the necessary tasks.
If the United States and its allies wanted to maintain the
same ratio of peacekeepers to population as it had in
Kosovo, the briefing said, they would have to station
480,000 troops in Iraq. If Bosnia was used as benchmark,
364,000 troops would be needed. If Afghanistan served as
the model, only 13,900 would be needed in Iraq. The higher
numbers were consistent with projections later provided to
Congress by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of
staff, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed
in Iraq. But Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed that estimate as off
More forces generally are required to control countries
with large urban populations. The briefing pointed out that
three-quarters of Iraq's population lived in urban areas.
In Bosnia and Kosovo, city dwellers made up half of the
population. In Afghanistan, it was only 18 percent.
Neither the Defense Department nor the White House,
however, saw the Balkans as a model to be emulated. In a
Feb. 14, 2003, speech titled "Beyond Nation Building,"
which Mr. Rumsfeld delivered in New York, he said the large
number of foreign peacekeepers in Kosovo had led to a
"culture of dependence" that discouraged local inhabitants
from taking responsibility for themselves.
The defense secretary said he thought that there was much
to be learned from Afghanistan, where the United States did
not install a nationwide security force but relied instead
on a new Afghan Army and troops from other countries to
help keep the peace.
James F. Dobbins, who was the administration's special
envoy for Afghanistan and had also served as the ambassador
at large for Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti, thought
that the administration was focusing on the wrong model.
The former Yugoslavia - with its ethnic divisions, hobbled
economy and history of totalitarian rule - had more
parallels with Iraq than administration officials appeared
willing to accept, Mr. Dobbins believed. It was Afghanistan
that was the anomaly.
"They preferred to find a model for successful nation
building that was not associated with the previous
administration," Mr. Dobbins said in an interview. "And
Afghanistan offered a much more congenial answer in terms
of what would be required in terms of inputs, including
As the Iraq war approached, Mr. Dobbins was overseeing a
RAND Corporation study on nation building. The larger the
number of security forces, the fewer the casualties
suffered by alliance troops, the study asserted. When L.
Paul Bremer III was appointed the chief administrator for
Iraq in May 2003, Mr. Dobbins slipped him a copy.
By the end of 2002, the military was scrambling to get
ready. The troop deployment plan had been devised so that
the Pentagon could regulate the flow and send only as much
as was needed. Throughout the process, Mr. Rumsfeld was
scrutinizing the troop requests. Defense officials said he
had wanted to ensure that the deployments did not outrun
the United Nations diplomacy and added that requests for
Iraq had to be examined because the United States faced
other potential crises.
Concern in the Field
But some military officers were concerned about what they
perceived as second-guessing at the Pentagon, and
complained of delays. One major troop request submitted in
late November was not approved until a month later, for
The issue came to the attention of Newt Gingrich, the
former Republican Congressional leader and a member of the
Defense Policy Board that advises Mr. Rumsfeld, during an
early February 2003 meeting with American officers in
Kuwait. He said he would go back and press the secretary to
stop messing around with tactical-level decisions,
according to an account of the session by participants.
"The worst they can do is take my designated parking space
away," he said.
As the war drew near, Mr. Bush asked his senior commanders
if they had sufficient forces, including enough to protect
vulnerable supply lines. "I can't tell you how many times
he asked, 'Do you have everything that you need?' " Ms.
Rice said. "The answer was, these are the force levels that
Senior military officers acknowledge that they did not
press the president for more troops. But some said they
would have been more comfortable with a larger reserve. And
some officers say the concept of beginning the invasion
while reinforcements were still being sent did not work so
smoothly in practice.
On March 18, the day before the conflict began, the staff
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met to discuss plans for
removing American forces once they had triumphed. Aides to
General Franks argued that the meeting was premature.
As the American forces drove toward Baghdad in the early
days of the war, the fighting was different than had been
expected. Instead of a clash of armies, however mismatched,
the American forces had to contend with paramilitary forces
and even suicide bombers. Thousands of Saddam Fedayeen
paramilitary troops had infested Iraq's southern cities and
were using them as bases to attack American supply lines.
But after several days of hard battle, the Americans
resumed their march north and began moving in for what they
thought would be a climactic confrontation with the
Republican Guard. With seemingly little doubt that the
Americans would win, talk of withdrawal soon resurfaced.
In mid-April, Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld's
closest aides, arrived in Kuwait to join the team assembled
by General Garner, the civil administrator, which was to
oversee post-Hussein Iraq. Mr. Bush had agreed in January
that the Defense Department was to have authority for
postwar Iraq. It was the first time since World War II that
the State Department would not take charge of a
Speaking to Garner aides at their hotel headquarters in
Kuwait, Mr. Di Rita outlined the Pentagon's vision, one
that seemed to echo the themes in Mr. Rumsfeld's Feb. 14
address. According to Col. Paul Hughes of the Army, who was
present at the session, Mr. Di Rita said the Pentagon was
determined to avoid open-ended military commitments like
those in Bosnia and Kosovo, and to withdraw the vast
majority of the American forces in three to four months.
"The main theme was that D.O.D. would be in charge, and
this would be totally different than in the past," said Tom
Gross, a retired Army colonel and a Garner aide who was
also at the session. "We would be out very quickly. We were
very confused. We did not see it as a short-term process."
Mr. Di Rita said in an interview that he had no
responsibility for force levels, but added that military
commanders wanted the postwar troop numbers to be as low as
Thomas E. White, then the secretary of the Army, said he
had received similar guidance from Mr. Rumsfeld's office.
"Our working budgetary assumption was that 90 days after
completion of the operation, we would withdraw the first
50,000 and then every 30 days we'd take out another 50,000
until everybody was back," he recalled. "The view was that
whatever was left in Iraq would be de minimis."
Not Enough Troops
Even as Mr. Hussein's government was
losing its struggle to hold onto power, some preliminary
reports suggested that Iraq could remain a battleground.
The National Intelligence Council had cautioned in a
January 2003 report that the Iraqis would resent their
liberators unless the American-led occupation authority
moved quickly to restore essential services and shift
political controls to Iraqi leaders. But those efforts
turned out to be frustratingly slow.
While much of the country was chaotic and lawless, the
American generals there were still not sure that they were
facing a determined insurgency. The limited number of
United States troops, however, posed problems in policing
the porous borders, establishing a significant presence in
the resistant Sunni Triangle and imposing order in the
"My position is that we lost momentum and that the
insurgency was not inevitable," said James A. (Spider)
Marks, a retired Army major general, who served as the
chief intelligence officer for the land war command. "We
had momentum going in and had Saddam's forces on the run.
"But we did not have enough troops," he continued. "First,
we did not have enough troops to conduct combat patrols in
sufficient numbers to gain solid intelligence and paint a
good picture of the enemy on the ground. Secondly, we
needed more troops to act on the intelligence we generated.
They took advantage of our limited numbers."
In Baghdad, some neighborhoods were particularly restive,
but American forces were hampered in carrying out patrols.
The Third Infantry Division, the first big unit to venture
into the city, had about 17,000 troops. But it was a
mechanized division, and only a fraction could carry out
patrols on foot. The tank crews had to wait for body armor.
North and west of Baghdad, in the volatile cities of the
Sunni Triangle, resisters found refuge while they plotted
In Falluja, which would become a hotbed of the insurgency,
no troops arrived until April 24, two weeks after American
forces entered Baghdad. Soldiers from the 82d Airborne were
the first ones there. But because of constant troop
rotations and the limited number of forces, responsibility
for the city repeatedly shifted. The chronic turnover made
it difficult for the Americans to form ties to residents
and gather useful intelligence. Today, the city is a no-go
zone surrounded by United States marines.
Lt. Col. Joseph Apodaca, a Marine intelligence officer who
is now retired, said there were early signs in the Shiite
Muslim-dominated south that the paramilitary forces
American troops faced might be the precursor of a broader
insurgency. But chasing after potential rebels was not the
Marines' assigned mission, and they did not have sufficient
troops for this, he said.
"The overall plan was to go get Saddam Hussein," Colonel
Apodaca recalled. "The assumption seemed to be that when
people realized that he was gone, that would get the
population on our side and facilitate the transition to
reconstruction. We were not going to chase these guys when
they ran to the smaller cities. We did not really have the
force levels at that point to keep the insurgency down."
In Washington, however, White
House and Pentagon officials thought that the most
dangerous part was over. The goal of quickly enlisting
Iraqi support appeared to be frustrated when the police
abandoned their posts and Iraqi military units did not
surrender en masse. But the administration thought that
more of the burden could be shifted to multinational
On April 15, 2003, Mr. Bush convened his National Security
Council and discussed soliciting peacekeeping forces from
other countries so the United States could begin to pull
out troops. Even though there had been widespread
opposition to the invasion, administration officials
thought that some governments would put aside their
objections once victory was at hand and the Iraqis began to
form a new government.
Pentagon officials briefed the president on a plan to
enlist four divisions: one made up of NATO troops; another
from the Gulf Cooperative Council, an association of
Persian Gulf states; one led by Poland; and another by
Britain. The thinking was that the United States would
leave no more than a division or two in Iraq.
The next day, General Franks flew to Baghdad and instructed
his commanders to draw up plans to begin pulling out. At
that palace meeting with his commanders, he noted that it
was possible for the United States to wear out its welcome
and keep too many troops in Iraq too long. A functioning
interim Iraqi government was expected within 30 to 60 days,
he said. He told his commanders to be prepared to take as
much risk going out as they did coming in.
After that discussion, the general and his officers took
part in a satellite video conference with Mr. Bush. The
president asked about integrating foreign troops into the
security force. Noting that Secretary of State Powell and
Mr. Rumsfeld would be asking other nations for troops, the
general said he planned to talk to officials in the United
Arab Emirates about an Arab division.
General Franks's talk of being prepared to take risks
alarmed General Garner, the civil administrator. Fearing
that an early troop reduction threatened the mission of
building a new Iraq, General Garner took his concerns to
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the chief allied land commander.
"There was no doubt we would win the war," General Garner
recalled telling General McKiernan, "but there can be doubt
we will win the peace."
Soon after, the Pentagon began turning off the spigot of
troops flowing to Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld had started to question whether the military
still needed the Army's First Cavalry Division, a
17,500-member force that was slated to follow the lead
invasion force into Iraq. He and General Franks discussed
the issue repeatedly.
"Rumsfeld just ground Franks down," said Mr. White, the
former Army secretary who was fired after policy disputes
with Mr. Rumsfeld. "If you grind away at the military guys
long enough, they will finally say, 'Screw it, I'll do the
best I can with what I have.' The nature of Rumsfeld is
that you just get tired of arguing with him."
A Canceled Deployment
General Franks insisted that he had
not faced pressure on the First Cavalry issue. "It was
Rumsfeld's idea," he said, referring to the cancellation of
the deployment. "Rumsfeld did not beat me into submission.
Initially, I did not want to truncate the force flow, but
as it looked like we were likely to get greater
international participation, I concluded that it was O.K.
to stop the flow."
General Franks also said he accepted the suggestion only
after his field commanders agreed that the division was not
needed. But a former staff officer to General McKiernan
said the land war commander had wanted the unit to be
deployed and was disappointed that he had to do without the
additional division. The deployment of the division was
canceled on April 21.
It was not long, though, before the optimistic talk of a
speedy withdrawal of American forces was set aside. Neither
NATO nor Persian Gulf nations wanted to put forces into
Iraq. An American general was sent to New Delhi to talk to
the Indians, but any hope of securing Indian troops quickly
faded. Turkey later offered peacekeeping troops, but the
Iraqis would not accept them. Only the Polish-led and
British-led divisions became a reality.
Soon after arriving in May, Mr. Bremer, who replaced
General Garner as the chief occupation official sooner than
expected, became concerned that American forces were
stretched too thin. In late June, John Sawers, the senior
British official in Baghdad, sent a confidential report to
his government, which chronicled Mr. Bremer's concerns.
'A Difficult Week in Iraq'
"It has been a difficult week
in Iraq," Mr. Sawers wrote. "The new threat is
well-targeted sabotage of the infrastructure. An attack on
the power grid last weekend had a series of knock-on
effects which halved the power generation in Baghdad and
many other parts of the country. "
"The oil and gas is another target, with five successful
attacks this week on pipelines," he continued. "We are also
seeing the first signs of intimidation of Iraqis working
for the coalition."
"Bremer's main concern is that we must keep in-country
sufficient military capability to ensure a security blanket
across the country," Mr. Sawers reported. "He has twice
said to President Bush that he is concerned that the
drawdown of US/UK troops has gone too far and we cannot
afford further reductions."
Mr. Bremer also questioned whether multinational forces
"will be sufficiently robust when push comes to shove," Mr.
According to United States officials, Mr. Bremer raised the
troop issue in a June 18 video conference with Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bremer said the United States needed to be careful not
to go too far in taking out troops. The president said the
plan was now to rotate forces, not withdraw them, and
agreed that Washington needed to maintain adequate force
Still the American forces shrank, from a high of about
150,000 in July 2003 to some 108,000 in February 2004,
before going up again when violence sharply increased early
this year. Some of the troop declines were offset by the
arrival of the Polish-led division in August 2003.
General Franks said he had sought to assure Mr. Bremer that
he would have enough troops in late May. While Mr. Bremer
argued that he could not get Iraq's economy going until the
American military made the country safer, General Franks
asserted that the slow pace of reconstruction was
"Some people say there can be no economic building in a
country until there is security," General Franks recalled,
referring to Mr. Bremer and others in the Coalition
Provisional Authority. "When I would talk to Jerry Bremer,
I would say, 'Listen Jerry, you want to talk to me about
security in terms of forces. I want to talk to you about
the C.P.A. and how many civilians - wing tips, I call them
- you guys have out in these 18 provinces in order to take
large sums of money, move them around in civil works
projects, and get the angry young men off the streets so
that fewer troops will be necessary."
This debate between Mr. Bremer, who declined to comment for
this article, and the senior military officers in Iraq
would become a continuing refrain.
What Went Wrong?
For some who served in Iraq, the summer of 2003 was a time
of lost opportunities. Now there is a passionate debate
about what went wrong.
"Combat is a series of transitions, and the most critical
part of an operation is the transition from combat to
stability and support operations," one general said. "When
you don't have enough combat power, you end up giving the
enemy an opportunity to go after your vulnerabilities."
General Franks, for his part, said the United States had
sufficient combat forces in Iraq but did not initially have
enough civil affairs, military police and other units that
are intended to establish order after major combat is over.
The issue, he said, was not the level of forces, but their
While saying he was not criticizing Mr. Rumsfeld, General
Franks suggested that this was partly a result of
difficulties in getting all of the Central Command's force
requests approved quickly at the Pentagon. He also said
delays in obtaining funds from Congress for reconstruction
efforts and the decision of many foreign governments not to
send troops had contributed to the continuing turmoil in
Ms. Rice puts the blame for the insurgency primarily on the
fact that many Iraqi forces fled during the American push
to Baghdad, only to fight another day. She also said the
minority Sunni population, which had been in power under
Mr. Hussein, felt unsettled, contributing to a "permissive
"Any big historical change is going to be turbulent," she
said. "There was a lot of planning based on the
assumptions, based on the intelligence. It is also the case
that when the plan meets reality, it's what it didn't think
of that really becomes the problem. So the real question
is, can you adjust and make the changes necessary?"
General Garner said the administration's mistakes had made
it easier for the insurgency to take hold.
"John Abizaid was the only one who really had his head in
the postwar game," General Garner said, referring to the
general who served as General Franks's deputy and
eventually his successor. "The Bush administration did not.
Condi Rice did not. Doug Feith didn't. You could go brief
them, but you never saw any initiative come of them. You
just kind of got a north and south nod. And so it ends with
so many tragic things."
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