Army Critiques Post-Invasion Phase of Iraq War

A U.S. Army report that will be released on Monday morning blasts the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war for being poorly planned and badly mismanaged. Military commanders were also given little guidance from the Pentagon and Army leadership in Iraq was both understaffed and ill-equipped, according to the report written by the Combat Studies Institute, an Army think-tank.

What's different about this report is the sourcing, says NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz. "These aren't anonymous quotes. We know who's talking." About 200 active duty or retired officers were interviewed for this report. All were "very closely involved in the decision making process at the time," says Raz.

The story was first reported by The New York Times on Sunday.

Although both civilian and military leaders at the Pentagon have been aware of "disastrous errors" in decision making that plagued the post-Invasion phase of the war, Raz says some have been "very sensitive about this topic for five years now, almost to the point where they're defensive."

One critical mistake: After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Army expected the Iraqi bureaucracy to continue functioning and they didn't expect to be doing that much work after the initial invasion. Gen. Tommy Franks, who at the time was the commander of the U.S. Central Command made the decision to replace the operational headquarters in Baghdad led by Lt. Gen. David McKiernan with a less experienced tactical team led by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

Failed Assumptions

McKiernan's team, which was referred to as "the dream team" by senior Army officials, was moved south to Kuwait. Franks expected to see most us troops out of Iraq within months so his appointment of Sanchez' V Corps to lead the post-war operation in Baghdad was based on the assumption that it would be a temporary, caretaker command.

"When we found that they [McKiernan's staff] were moved south, we were shocked," retired Gen. Jack Keane, the Army vice chief of staff at the time, tells NPR.

Sanchez' V Corps staff was not trained to manage stability operations, let alone the brewing Iraqi insurgency.

"[V Corps] was focused on fighting Saddam's army," Sanchez, now retired, tells NPR. "It was never trained or resourced to conduct the operational tasks that were being asked of it."

Origins of the Insurgency

Compounding the problem for Sanchez was the decision by L. Paul Bremer, head of the coalition provisional authority, to disband the Iraqi army and restrict former Baath party members from working in the government. With a stroke of his pen, Bremer put hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of work— Iraqis who eventually took part in the insurgency.

Unlike previous accounts of the post-invasion phase of the war, the Army's report places considerable blame squarely on the shoulders of its own senior leaders—most notably—though not explicitly, Gen. Tommy Franks.

"I believe that we could have insisted on more comprehensive planning for the aftermath of the invasion," says Keane. "I think we could have asked tougher questions like 'what happens if the regime doesn't surrender?'"

The report, "On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign," is the second part of the Army's official history of the Iraq war. The next installment is expected to be released in a year.

Army Study Blasts Post-Invasion Efforts in Iraq

More on the Report

"On Point II" is described as the first historical study of the campaign in Iraq in the 18 months following the overthrow of the Baathist regime in April 2003. It is available for download as a PDF file through the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center.

An official Army report on the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war criticizes the Pentagon for mismanagement and poor planning. The report says military commanders were given little guidance on how to deal with the aftermath.

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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.

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"On Point II" is described as the first historical study of the campaign in Iraq in the 18 months following the overthrow of the Baathist regime in April 2003. It is available for download as a PDF file through the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center.

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