Army Study Blasts Post-Invasion Efforts in Iraq
LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. The post-invasion phase of the Iraq war was badly mismanaged and poorly planned. Military commanders were given little guidance from the Pentagon on how to deal with the aftermath, and the army leadership was understaffed and ill-equipped. These aren't new conclusions, but they come from an unlikely source: the Army itself. Tomorrow, the Army is set to release its official history of its performance in the Iraq war, and it's a damning account. NPR's Guy Raz joins us now. Good morning, Guy.
GUY RAZ: Good morning, Liane.
HANSEN: Much of what the Army says in the report has been written about in countless books that have been coming out on the war. Tom Ricks' "Fiasco" is one that immediately comes to mind. So what's different about this one?
RAZ: Well, what's different, of course, is the source. And the fact, Liane, that everyone quoted his name. So these aren't anonymous quotes, we know who's talking. About 200 officers apparently were interviewed for this report. And they are either all active-duty or retired officers who were very closely involved in the decision-making process at that time.
HANSEN: Michael Gordon is the reporter for The New York Times where the story first appeared this morning. What kind of reaction do you expect from the Pentagon?
RAZ: You know, Liane, I think most people at the Pentagon nowadays are well aware of the sort of the disastrous errors that were made by both the civilians and the military leaders at the time. I suspect the Pentagon will try and spin this as an example of how it's a self-critical organization, you know, sort of constantly evaluating its decision-making processes. That's partially true. But ultimately it's misleading because civilian policymakers and even some military officers have been very sensitive about this topic for five years now, almost to the point where they're defensive.
HANSEN: Give us a little slice of the report, what's in the report. What did the Army expect to happen in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam?
RAZ: Well, Liane, essentially the Army expected the Iraqi bureaucracy to continue functioning. They didn't expect to be doing that much work after the initial invasion. So Tommy Franks, who at that time was the commander of Central Command, relieved David McKiernan - Lieutenant General David McKiernan - of his duties. He said, look, you can go back. McKiernan was in charge of the initial ground invasion. He said, you can go back to the U.S. He put in a place a newly-named three-star lieutenant general, Ricardo Sanchez, in charge of the post-war operations. Sanchez was not experienced to handle this. He was very understaffed. And from the get go, many political decisions were made by Paul Bremer at the time. The disbanding of the Iraqi army, the debaathification policy, put a lot of Iraqis out of work. And that really became the nexus - the core, if you will - of what then became the insurgency.
HANSEN: Why is the Army doing this?
RAZ: Liane, the Army has several of these, sort of, in-house think tanks. One is called the Center for Lessons Learned. There's the Combat Studies Institute which put this report out. What's fascinating is that every Army unit actually has its own historian. I'm talking from the smallest platoon to the biggest divisions. Now eventually all of these papers that these young men and women put together are deposited at the Army's War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And there it becomes available for historians. And in fact, one of the best books written about the Vietnam War - it's called "Dereliction of Duty" - it was written by an Army colonel named H.R. McMaster. Really, one of the best books on the war. And he based that very damning account of Vietnam largely on the documents that he obtained from the Army War College in Carlisle.
HANSEN: NPR's defense correspondent, Guy Raz. Guy, thank you very much.
RAZ: Thank you, Liane.