MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Some scathing words directed at U.S. generals and their conduct of the war in Iraq and these words are coming from an active-duty Army officer - inept planning, intellectual and moral failures, a crisis in America's general officer corps. The author of those words is Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling. He's an Iraq veteran and deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fort Hood, Texas. His article is published today in Armed Forces Journal, a monthly periodical. It's titled "A Failure in Generalship."
And Col. Yingling joins us now. Colonel, it's extraordinary, isn't it, for an active-duty officer to be so publicly critical of this war?
Lieutenant Colonel PAUL YINGLING (Deputy Commander, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment; Author, "A Failure in Generalship"): I think that military professionals have an obligation to society to understand once the nation commits the armed forces to war to state clearly the resources required to win and the ways in which those resources should be employed. As part of that professional dialogue, I wrote this article.
BLOCK: You're quite critical of the silence of the officer corps. Here's one line from your article: America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces, and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq.
Lt. Col. YINGLING: Yes. And I think that's an accurate assessment of where we stand that we should at this point, in the war, have seized the initiative and one way to indicate that we've seized the initiative would be an improvement in overall security for Iraqi civilians. That is the definition of success in counterinsurgency operations.
Yet, in each year since 2003, security conditions for Iraqi civilians have deteriorated despite heroic efforts on the part of our soldiers and enormous sacrifices. That is the definition of failure in a counterinsurgency.
BLOCK: Were you prompted in writing this by your experiences in Iraq?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: I decided to write this article at a Purple Heart ceremony in December of this past year. I was attending the ceremony and soldiers were called forward to receive their Purple Hearts, all of them visibly wounded. It occurred to me that these soldiers have done their part. They have fought heroically. Senior military officers - and I don't exclude myself in this judgment - have not done their part.
BLOCK: One of the points you make as well is that it's a tragic error to assume that wars of the future will look like wars of the past. Do you think that U.S. forces now are fighting the wrong war in Iraq?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: I think the forces on the ground, especially at the tactical level, battalions and companies in Iraq are adapting everyday to the demands of counterinsurgency. However, throughout the 1990s, we, the armed forces and the senior leaders of the armed forces, did not generate the capabilities to conduct counterinsurgency effectively.
BLOCK: Our Pentagon reporter, Tom Bowman, ran your critique by General David Petraeus today, the commanding general in Iraq. And General Petraeus agreed that yes, there were things that could have been done better but that the military has done an enormous amount, he says, to adapt now to the situation in Iraq. I want to play you some of what he had to say.
General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Commander in Iraq): I think that to be fair, there have been extraordinary changes made and I think that we had shown that our Army and our Marine Corps and the other services that they are learning organizations. And I'd like to think that some of us in senior billets have learned along the way as well.
BLOCK: Colonel Yingling, what do you make of that?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: The armed forces are trying to get better at counterinsurgency. But to measure effectiveness, we will know we're succeeding when Iraqi civilians become safer. Until that happens, we can't describe our efforts as successful.
BLOCK: Which generals - which officers would you include in this critique of - contributing to what you call a debacle in Iraq?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: My critique is not of individual performances but of the entire system that produces our senior leaders. The failures in Iraq - the common - for Vietnam as well - occurred independently of any one leader. These failures have occurred over the course of a generation. So it's neither effective nor helpful to isolate individual leaders. The system is failing our country.
BLOCK: I take your point, but would you include basically all the generals there, assuming that they all would have had the same responsibility to be accountable, to be - to make their feelings known?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: A general officer's responsibility, indeed, any officer's responsibility is to perceive conditions of future combat, to describe the resources required to win and to be candid to civilian authorities about those requirements. If a general officer can point to having performed those tasks over the last three or four or seven years, I would happily exclude him from my critique.
BLOCK: Can you point to anyone who would fit into that category?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: I think, General Shinseki when he said in the - appearing before Congress - that several hundred thousand soldiers would be required to stabilize postwar Iraq, gave an accurate assessment.
BLOCK: You're talking about General Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff.
Lt. Col. YINGLING: Yes.
BLOCK: Colonel Yingling, leaving aside the failures of the past, what would you say the proper conduct of the war in Iraq now should be? Would you say, for example, that more troops are needed and maybe a different strategy?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: Again, I think our counterinsurgency theory and doctrine are very sound. That doctrine holds that it will take several hundred thousand soldiers, at least, 10 years to provide the security conditions that will contribute to the achievement of our policy aims.
BLOCK: What, sort of, reaction have you gotten there at Fort Hood since your article was published?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: I've received more than a hundred e-mails mostly from majors, lieutenant colonels, captains - overwhelmingly favorable.
BLOCK: Were there any dissenting voices you've heard from?
Lt. Col. YINGLING: Actually, there was only one. A fellow lieutenant colonel who said that I was not holding myself to the same high standards that I would hold our general officers to. I think that's a fair criticism. I should not be immune from this critique. I am part of the Army. I love the Army. It's my institution. And I feel I have an obligation to help change it in ways that are beneficial to our security.
BLOCK: Well, Colonel Yingling, thanks for talking with us today.
Lt. Col. YINGLING: Okay. Thank you very much.
BLOCK: That's Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling. He's deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment at Fort Hood. His article, "A Failure in Generalship," was published today in Armed Forces Journal.
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