return to ICG Spaces home    ICG Risk Blog    discussions    newsletters    login    

ICG Risk Blog - [ Katrina and Iraq: failure in fighting a two-front war ]

Katrina and Iraq: failure in fighting a two-front war


Part 6

"The one thing this [Katrina] disaster has demonstrated [is] the lack of coordinated, in-depth planning and training on all levels of Government, for any/all types of emergency contingencies. 9/11 was an exception because the geographical area was small and contained, but these two hurricanes have clearly demonstrated a national response weakness ... Failure to plan, and train properly has plagued US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States."

Speaking of the interest of Bush43's desire for the "US military to take a more active role in disaster management and humanitarian assistance":

"There are several reasons why that will not happen easily. (1) Existing laws will not allow the police powers the military will need to be effective. (2) The military is not trained for such a mission and (3) the 'warfighter insurgency' within the US military does not want such a mission and will strongly resist it. Not one civil affairs unit was deployed for either hurricane."

The author of this as yet unreleased assessment is Stephen (Steve) E. Henthorne, a figure well known in the areas of Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC), humanitarian assistance, refugee conflict and disaster management, and development circles. (Henthorne was formerly an instructor at the United States Army Peacekeeping Institute, United States War College, Carlisle Barracks.)

I find it interesting that Henthorne, in reference to overseas US-NGO interactions, had this to say about US military and civilian aid organizations in 2003:

[A] deep rift exists between the US military and civilian aid organizations. [The] US military has little intention of coordinating post-war reconstruction activities with civilian organizations that are not prepared to be team players in helping to enhance the overall civil-military mission; preparing to the point of functioning by themselves as mini-NGOs if necessary.

[P]rojects like the Joint Regional Teamsdesigned by the United States to assist cooperation between national and international agencies in reporting on military and political reform effortsare poorly developed and unlikely to be useful in assisting cooperation and diffusing tensions in Afghanistan. It is hoped that the new provincial regional team (PRT) concept will improve overall success, but it is too early to tell… These new programs will only be successful if there are people in charge who want to make them work. [S]uch persons to be in very short supply within a military with a purely war-fighter mentality.

[The] outcome has been an increase in misperceptions on both sides about intentions, methods of employment, and capabilities; misconceptions that will only serve to have a negative impact on overall mission success.

In an earlier 2002 on military peace operations and conflict resolution, Henthorne was among a group recognizing these themes:

  • Need to clarify and agree on roles throughout mission life, [i.e.,] educating each other about roles and mandates while taking into account that these roles often change throughout the process.
  • Common acceptance and recognition that increased coordination needs to happen on the field, but the necessary resources and funding to facilitate the coordination do not yet exist. If these mechanisms are not created, people become focused on their own programs without acknowledging the increasing need for coordination.
  • Coordination decreases as the peace-building phase moves forward. The emergency phase is usually excellent from a coordination standpoint, but tends to dissipate afterward. [As the emergency recedes] people become more specialized in their roles. The holistic purpose of presence is lost.

Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) must have known what it was in for when it commissioned Henthorne for an "independent and critical review" of what went so wrong. While the report is still uncirculated, it appears that they got it:

"The US military has long planned for war on two fronts. This is as close as we have come to [that] reality since the Second World War; the results have been disastrous."

It appears that Henthorne states that Katrina relief efforts suffered near catastrophic failures due to endemic corruption at the state level, troop shortages caused by the war in Iraq, and differences between elements of the US military:

"Corruption and mismanagement within the New Orleans city government [had] diverted money earmarked for improving flood protection to other, more vote-getting, projects. Past mayors and governors gambled that the long-expected Big Killer hurricane would never happen. That bet was lost with Hurricane Katrina."

The commander of the Joint Readiness Training Centre at Fort Polk, Louisiana, "refused permission for special forces units who volunteered to join relief efforts, to do so":

"The same general did take in some families from Hurricane Katrina, but only military families living off the base," the report says. "He has done a similar thing for military families displaced by Hurricane Rita. However,

[He] declined to share water with the citizens of Leesville, who are out of water, and his civil affairs staff have to sneak off post in civilian clothes to help coordinate relief efforts… Another major factor in the delayed response to the hurricane aftermath was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard was deployed in Iraq."

It is sad to see such little difference between a first world and a third world environment, but Henthorne is clear-eyed and free of political correctness. He had this to say in outlining why Yugoslavia was "ripe to fill" institutional needs on both sides of the Atlantic and that bombing was "considered to offer the safest, simplest, expenditure of manpower & resources" to achieve those needs:

NATO, while celebrating its 50th Birthday, was not going through a metamorphosis, but rather a mid-life identity crisis; with organizational survival as its primary mission… The growing fear within NATO was basically how to keep the pay checks coming? How would defence budgets from member countries continued to be justified? Even the reduction, if not full closure of NATO, would mean even further cuts in military spending, an increase in unemployed personnel, and a failure of the European NATO countries to assume more of their defence costs. NATO needed a cause with which to demonstrate, and justify, a need for its continued existence.

[The] US Department of Defense needed to fight off huge defense cuts, and maintain a spending budget, in the face of a 'Peace Dividend' that had never been paid. It, as the sole remaining 'Super Power,' needed to justify its need to maintain what military infrastructure it had in place, in order to maintain its leadership role in a very changing world, and to insure that the Armed Forces of the United States could perform its proper mission: Provide a well-trained, well-equipped, well-led, motivated fighting force to defend US vital interests. The US wants to decrease its costs within NATO, but if NATO crumbles the U.S. will pay more, if that's possible, rather than less, in European defense costs.

[The] decision to take military action against Yugoslavia boiled down to be purely personal, and punitive, on the part of General Wesley Clark and Secretary of State Madeline Albright. During the Dayton Accords both Clark & Albright took great pains to paint themselves as the ones who tamed the tiger Milosevic; that he was their 'boy,' and that they had him under control. When Milosevic returned home and demonstrated that they didn't control him, it was very embarrassing for both Clark & Albright.

In April 2003 when many in authority, Rumsfeld included, were making light of the plight of Iraqi civilians suffering lawlessness and looting, and looking towards a speedy turnover, Henthorne fretted that US "troops might yield to pressure to hand over power prematurely." He drew the differences between Iraq and Germany and Japan, noting that rebuilding the latter two states after WWII took a long-term commitment of years to build what was to become a functioning independent base.

It would appear that Henthorne is a good person to write an after action report (AAR). One wonders how the UK's Independent obtained the report ahead of the US press. Doubtless, more information awaits.

Iraq war delayed Katrina relief effort, inquiry finds
By Kim Sengupta
The Independent (UK)
Published: 03 October 2005

Critics say troops are doing too little to stop looting
By Douglas Holt and Michael Kilian
Chicago Tribune
European edition, Sunday, April 13, 2003
Stars and Stripes

The Regionalization of Conflict and Intervention
International Peace Academy
5-9 May 2003

Strengthening Coexistence: A Civil-Military Dialogue
Meeting Report
The Coexistence Initiative & The Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations
New York, NY
January 14, 2003

Military Peace Operations and the Conflict Resolution/Peacebuilding Field
The Coexistence Initiative
New York, NY
July 25, 2002

War in Europe: NATO's 1999 War Against Serbia over Kosovo
February, 2000

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Strategic Risk Public  


  discuss this article

<<  |  May 2020  |  >>
view our rss feed