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Looking at resultant military performance through the eyes of a skilled, serving insider


While it is now little surprise that the US military "invaded Iraq without a formal plan for occupying and stabilizing the country [no Phase IV Post-combat] and this high-level failure continues to undercut what has been a "mediocre" Army effort there," it is a surprise to hear it from a serving Army officer, historian, planner and strategist who was also part of the study group that wrote the first official After Action Report (AAR) of OPERATION Iraqi Freedom for the Center for Army Lessons Learned, On Point - The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The officer, Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, has chosen an interesting vehicle to publicize his views, an essay presented in academic conferences as a personal view with "no plans to publish the essay, in part because he would expect difficulty in getting the Army's approval," yet he is happy to have it written about and discussed as he thinks that "this is something that has to get out, so it can be considered. There actually is something we can fix here, in terms of operational planning."

Given that Wilson extends his criticism beyond the administration and OSD to Army commanders who have "failed to grasp the strategic situation in Iraq [, suffer] from "stunted learning and a reluctance to adapt [, and exhibit] a collective cognitive dissidence on part of the U.S. Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it," I find it all the more telling that active duty feedback "has been relatively positive [with] general agreement with the premises I offer in the work."

I have felt the war lost for some time and that we are on the unfortunate glide slope to create a ‘neo-Taliban exclusion zone’ that permits insurgents and jihadists to operate unhindered, but within a far more advanced industrial base, accessing proven conventional and WMD scientific talent, and drawing upon an established – some might say vibrant – overt/covert import-export capacity, but it is both sad and refreshing to hear a serving officer scheduled to teach at West Point in 2005 state that:

the U.S. military lost the dominant position in Iraq in the summer of 2003 and has been scrambling to recover ever since. "In the two to three months of ambiguous transition, U.S. forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative [gained] over an off-balanced enemy… The United States, its Army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."

Army commanders still misunderstand the strategic problem they face and therefore are still pursuing a flawed approach... "Plainly stated, the 'western coalition' failed, and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom in its fullness."

It was only in November 2003, seven months after the fall of Baghdad, that U.S. occupation authorities produced a formal "Phase IV" plan for stability operations.

When one knows that Gen Tommy Franks, CENTCOM Commander who led the war planning in 2002 and 2003, is known as a "muddy boots sojer" (as opposed to a muddy boots soldier), it gives me little confidence in Franks' comments that "throughout the planning for the invasion of Iraq, Phase IV stability operations were discussed. Occupation problems "commanded hours and days of discussion and debate among CENTCOM planners and Washington officials… "I was confident in the Phase IV plan.":

There's a term in the Army that is not always used as a form of praise, but frequently is, calling somebody a "muddy boots sojer." And I say the word sojer, s-o-j-e-r. It's kind of, "Yep, he's a good muddy boots sojer." It is typically used as a compliment but not always. Well, everybody always said of Franks, "Yep, he's a muddy boots sojer." It's a loaded term in some ways. It means he's a great battalion commander. He's a good guy out there in the field. He's a good guy to have on your flank if you're a battalion commander in a tough fight.

It also tends to mean he is not a deep thinker. He's not one of those guys who goes off to the War College to read Clausewitz. He goes off to the War College to play some golf. So the image of Tommy Franks was a rather cunning, but not deep, general. Franks acquits himself well in Afghanistan and then turns to the question of Iraq. The challenge here for Rumsfeld is [dealing with] the classic Army background [that wants to go in heavy and so employs a] process where he kind of chips away and chips away at this belief asking questions: "Why do you need that? Why do you need that?" The Pentagon dubs this "iterative process." Really, I think it is more process of erosion. And after several months into this, Franks is more or less persuaded.

Consider this mindset along with the appalling treatment of Gen Shinseki for saying what ultimately proved to be true, the common private utterance among officers at any level that a request for more troops was a career-limiting move, and it is not hard to see that many commanders would take the path of least political resistance. This is not to say that Wilson is incorrect; it is added leavening to what was a fault-ridden planning process.

This linkage is strengthened for me as I read Wilson’s addressing of a "continuing criticism of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq -- the number of troops there. "The scarcity of available 'combat power'… greatly complicated the situation":

a lack of sufficient troops was a consequence of the earlier, larger problem of failing to understand that prevailing in Iraq involved more than just removing Hussein. "This overly simplistic conception of the 'war' led to a cascading undercutting of the war effort: too few troops, too little coordination with civilian and governmental/non-governmental agencies… and too little allotted time to achieve 'success'"

I agree with Wilson’s comment that Phase IV operations were "critical because they were needed to win the war rather than just decapitate" the government. I second his comment that due to this failure, the US remains "perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it."

Part 7

Gordon Housworth

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