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The Army has just released a new official history of the Iraq War. It concludes that the Army's senior leaders did not properly plan for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. They understaffed it and may have made the insurgency worse.
It's a conclusion that others have reached before, but this time, the Army is criticizing itself. NPR's Guy Raz has our report.
GUY RAZ: Shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, General Tommy Franks, may have sealed the U.S. military's fate in Iraq for the next four years. Franks ordered the team that led the invasion - the Coalition Forces Land Component Command, or CFLCC - to leave Baghdad to leave Baghdad and to set up shop in Kuwait.
CFLCC was an operational unit run by some of the Army's most experienced commanders, known as the dream team among senior officers, including General Jack Keane, who was the Army's vice chief of staff at the time.
General JACK KEANE (Former Vice Chief of Staff, US Army): They had been together for about eight or nine months, almost a year, in preparing for the war, then executed the invasion. And now they were going to move to Kuwait and essentially just be a support headquarters. It seemed to be, in my judgment, to be very ill-advised to do something like that.
RAZ: With CFLCC in Kuwait, General Franks assigned the Army's Fifth Corps to take its place. The only problem was that Fifth Corps was a tactical unit, trained to fight and defeat Saddam Hussein's army. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez was the Fifth Corps commander.
Lieutenant General RICARDO SANCHEZ (Former Fifth Corps Commander, US Army): And it was a very conscious decision that was made by General Franks to do that, because in my assessment, he believed that the war was over and that most of the forces would be out by August. And therefore, he just needed a caretaker headquarters, if you will, on the ground to manage the redeployment of forces.
RAZ: Sanchez's headquarters was understaffed and ill-equipped to handle what unfolded in Iraq.
Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: It did put us on a path during the first 18 to 24 months of having tremendous difficulties. It led to the enhanced insurgency and to the tremendous instability that we faced in the country.
RAZ: The decision to place Sanchez's Fifth Corps in charge of Iraq may have been the single biggest military blunder after the fall of Baghdad, according to the Army's new official history of the war. Tommy Franks was not available for comment.
The book, released today, is based on interviews with 200 senior Army officers involved in the invasion and its aftermath. It's an attempt to expose the mistakes that were made in the hope that they won't be repeated by future officers.
Retired General Bob Scales, a former Army historian himself, says the book is remarkably candid. He calls it a chronicle of failure.
General BOB SCALES (US Army, Retired): The Army's got a strong internal culture of self-criticism. Hidden from the general population is the passion and often, you know, the vitriol that goes on, particularly among and between officers, particularly general officers, over the conduct of operations.
RAZ: While the book doesn't single out specific officers for criticism, it's hardly a ringing endorsement of the general officer corps - generals, the report implies, who failed to insist on better post-invasion planning. Again, here's former Army Vice Chief General Jack Keane.
Gen. KEANE: I think we could have asked tougher questions. You know, one of the questions I think we should've asked that troubles me in terms of myself is, why didn't we ask the question what happens if the regime doesn't surrender?
RAZ: The next installment of the Army's official Iraq war history is due out in about a year.
Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.