November 12, 2003

What did we learn from this?

One effective procedure the United States Army utilizes is the AAR, or After Action Report. This is an attempt to collect the 'lessons learned' from any significant action or deployment undertaken by a unit, disseminate them amongst the rest of the organization (Army) and to draw recommendations from their experiences for future use. The Army has an entire unit, named CALL ( Center for Army Lessons Learned), which is part of TRADOC (TRaining and DOctrine Command). It is tasked with collecting, processing, collating, synthesizing and distributing these bits of institutional learning throughout the force.

Recently, the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) (Don't you love all the acrobreviations?) published a report based on its experiences in the Second Gulf War ( Operation Iraqi Freedom). The 3ID was a frontline unit, tasked with fighting its way to the outskirts of Baghdad and then seizing and holding the Saddam International Airport, as well as providing support to units in neighboring sectors. The good part? This report was made available via their public website, briefly, before being yanked off the Internet. However, the good folks at managed to snag a copy and make it available to us the public. As an analyst, I found it to contain a whole collection of juicy bits, especially if you have a low opinion of the approach to this war taken by the National Command Authority.

Note: This document is not classified SECRET, or anything higher. It is marked 'For Official Use Only.' However, placement on the 3ID website could be interpreted as official use. In any event, since the information is available through cryptome and probably elsewhere, I am not revealing anything which is not already exposed, so I'm going to go ahead with this.

Wow, that was a really long preamble.

I read this document with a critical eye for several issues. First, I was concerned about various purely tactical and/or technical issues that cropped up during the war (someday I'll blog my rant about Apache attack helicopters versus dug-in, prepared armor without support). For the moment, however, I want to stick to my ongoing fury with the Administration for what I cannot in good conscience call anything but insanely optimistic planning (or lack thereof) and hence, a complete lack of reasonable preparation for the aftermath of a successful combat action in Iraq.

Let me start with these paragraphs, from p. 289:

Issue: For political reasons, leaders declared that U.S. forces were 'liberating forces' rather than occupying forces. This may have caused military commanders to be reluctant to use the full power granted to occupying forces to accomplish our legitimate objectives.

Discussion: As a matter of law and fact, the US is an occupying power in Iraq, even if we characterize ourselves as liberators. Under International Law,occupation is a de facto status that occurs when an invading army takes effective control of a portion of another country. If necessary to maintain this public affairs position, our national command should have stated that while we were "liberators," we intended to comply with International Law requirements regarding occupation. This status would have provided us authority to control almost every aspect of the Iraqi life, including the civilian population, government, resources, and facilities, making it easier for us to accomplish all SASO (Securing and Stabilizing Ops, I think - jb) missions. Occupation law also imposed upon us obligations to protect the civilian population to the best of our ability. Because of the refusal to acknowledge occupier status, commanders did not initially take measures available to occupying powers, such as imposing curfews, directing civilians to return to work, and controlling the local government and populace. The failure to act after we displaced the regime created a power vacuum, which others immediately tried to fill.

Recommendation: Military leaders must use authority granted occupying forces. We could have done this consistent with our government's stated position.

In my interpretation of this, the U.S. military was denied legitimate and effective tools for increasing the security of a conquered area and populace. This was not even done due to political concerns over the use of those tools, in which case a statement specifically forbidding their use would be expected; rather, it was done because no guidance was issued from above, implying that the planners of the war did not understand the ramifications of their plan for the safety and success of their forces on the ground. While I don't know if military advisors brought these matters to their attention, it still represents a severe lack of foresight to the detriment not only of their mission goals but their forces' safety.

This is in keeping with continuing stories that, before the attack, the administration and Rumsfeld clashed heavily with military commanders over the size of the forces required to undertake the job. Persistent stories then indicated that the military command was rebuffed several times when requesting force levels near the 200K range, with the administration claiming that 40K should be enough. Fortunately, either those rumors were untrue (although I give them credence based on the stories at the time) or the military fought back, because the forces that went in did, in fact, number near 200K. However, even then, there were problems immediately apparent in the paucity of support personnel such as military police to handle prisoners, and rear-echelon units to guard supply lines - the ambush and capture of the now-famous Pvt. Jessica Lynch and her platoon is only the most egregious example.

So we have, in the paragraphs quoted, some evidence that (in the 3ID's opinion) there was a lack of prior planning for the occupation on the part of the 'national leaders.' This is an unusually strong statement, especially for an Army after-action report; given that these reports usually are internally circulated only, there is no reason to harp on conflicts with outside agencies other than to note that the Army should be prepared to handle them. However, the document continues on p. 289:

Issue: No civilian authority in place prepared to serve as civilian administrator of Iraq and no Phase IV plan.

Discussion: The President announced that our national goal was "regime change." Yet there was no timely plan prepared for the obvious consequences of a regime change. As late as 15 April, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance ( ORHA) had, at best, a working draft plan of post-Saddam Iraq. Additionally, the delay in having the civilian authority on the ground (while perhaps justified by security concerns) made commanders reluctant to move too quickly regarding Phase IV SASO activities, as they were concerned that their actions might be inconsistent with ORHA efforts - which either did not exist or had not been shared with the military.Despite the virtual certainty that the military would accomplish the regime change, there was no plan for oversight and reconstruction, even after the division arrived in Baghdad.

Recommendation: Resolution of this is not in division (3rd Infantry division -jb) control. State, Defense and other relevant agencies must do a better and timelier job planning occupation governance and standing up a new Iraqi government. If this is not possible, the best alternative would have been to let the military plan and execute the mission for a month or more, then turn it over to the civilian overseer. This would have avoided the power/authority vacuum created by our failure to immediately replace key government institutions.

So, to further our trend, there simply was no plan available. However, preparations for this war had been underway for up to six months. The war was launched without a proper plan for what would happen even in the case of success (deposition of Saddam's regime and assumption of control on the ground by U.S./Coalition forces)!

In a concrete example of the shortfalls that plagued the 3ID, the report discusses the complete destruction and then the as-yet-incomplete resurrection of the Baghdad police department - surely a central institution for restoring and maintaining order (p. 290):

(paraphrase:The Baghdad police dept went from 40K to 2,500 police after the war, and at the time of writing, they're STILL not on the streets...)

"Recommendation: Higher headquarters needs to understand theimmediate need and impact of the local police in the aftermath of war. The people wanted police and needed security. But we had no plan to accomplish this."

In conclusion, the 3ID offers a high-level look at the problems with Phase IV (securing and stabilization, ongoing operations after the defeat of the Iraqi military), on p.293:

Higher headquarters did not provide the 3ID (M) with a plan for Phase IV.As a result, 3ID (M) transitioned into Phase IV operations in the absence of guidance.

Recommendations: Division planners should have drafted detailed plans on Phase IV ops that would have allow(sic) it to operate independently outside of guidance from higher HQ. Critical requirements should have been identified prior to LD(deployment), and a plan to execute a SASO mission for at least 30 days should have been ready to execute immediately. A liaison officer (LNO) from ORHA during planning would have greatly assisted this process.

This is a chiding of 3ID itself, by its own evaluation, for not planning to cope with higher HQ's lack of guidance. Although one can argue whether or not this is a valid criticism, given that it is not the division command's job to determine how to keep order in Iraq after conquest (at least, other than narrowly defined in their sector and under guidance from above), it is clear that the problem itself was severe. There simply was no information flowing down the chain on either what to do after the closing of 'major combat,' or the present issues surrounding deployment and operations were so far out of the military's 'comfort zone' that there was no time for or prioritization of these concerns.

Throughout the document, when macro-level concerns are addressed, there is a clear tendency for 3ID to indicate problems by citing a lack of division-level planning for 'holes' in the operations plan. It is not the board which issued this report's job to critique those holes themselves, and that is why the emphasis on those gaps and failings of levels of command higher up the chain is highly unusual in a report of this nature.

In short, our forces on the ground were screwed by a presidential administration that had painted itself a pretty picture of being greeted with flowers and cheers for overthrowing Saddam, and wasn't willing to consider much of anything past that - and, in fact, was so confident about the outcome that they were willing to waste time sparring with the military over the nature and size of the forces required to do the job - something which is not their job nor within their purview. Their job is to set objectives; it's the military's job to determine how to carry them out. For this group of chickenhawks to not only presume that they had a better idea of the outcome, but to spend time overriding military professionals as to the requirements for the action, is reprehensible, to say the least.

Posted by jbz at November 12, 2003 3:18 PM
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