On Point II & Lack of Planning for Iraq: Preliminary Thoughts

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 11 months ago

The U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth has produced a comprehensive study of the failure to plan for the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq.  It is entitled On Point II, Transition to the New Campaign: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom May 2003-January 2005.  It is a very lengthy and detailed study, so there is no way to analyze it within the context of a weblog.  This is left to others who have the professional honor and assignment to study such things.  However, a few preliminary thoughts are outlined below.  They cannot hope to be comprehensive or even connected.  They are presented in stream of consciousness fashion.

First, it seems that it would have been wise to have incorporated the other branches of the armed forces in the scope of the study.  For example, it might have been informative to have the Marine Corps perspectives to dovetail together with those of the Army, even though managing such an endeavor would have been much more difficult.

Second, on page 87 we read “As the United States moved closer to confrontation with Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, the US Government began conducting a series of studies intended to help understand what might occur after a military defeat of the Saddam regime. None of the organizations involved in this effort came to the conclusion that a serious insurgent resistance would emerge after a successful Coalition campaign against the Baathist regime.”  True, perhaps, but this sidesteps important issues, such as the fact that there was copius analysis that came to the conclusion that many more troops were needed (General Anthony Zinni and his team concluded 400,000 men) in order to maintain order once the regime was defeated.

Third, on page 92 and following, there is much discussion of de-Ba’athification and disbanding the Iraqi Army in the development of the Sunni insurgency.  Later on page 103 there is a good Venn Diagram showing a breakdown in the trouble-makers, including foreign Islamic extremists, gangs, opportunists and criminals, the unemployed, aggrieved tribes, and so on.  It is commonly understood that the insurgency included more than just al Qaeda, but rather, was composed of a large indigenous element, many subsets of which were fighting for different reasons.  However, one glaring omission is the absence of the discussion and analysis of Iranian elements (Quds, money, IRG) prior to the war (see Michael Rubin, AEI, Bad Neighbor).

Fourth, on page 103 in the section on Shi’a insurgency groups, the discussion seems very truncated with little to no real analysis of the affect of Moqtada al Sadr on the subsequent months and years.  It is of significance that in 2004 Sadr was actually in the custody of the 3/2 Marines, and ordered by coalition authorities, at the behest of the British, to let him go.  This significance of this cannot be overestimated, and yet the discussion lacks any acknowledgement of the event or its context.

Fifth, on page 116 the study notes that “While relatively few American Soldiers in Iraq in 2003 were familiar with counterinsurgency warfare and its theorists, it did not take long before many of the basic concepts of counterinsurgency made their way into US Army planning and operations. This process was indirect and based on immediate requirements rather than experience or doctrine.”  This seems basically correct, since necessity is the mother of invention.  A Soldier or Marine cannot grow up in the complex environment that is America without being familiar with a basic understanding of humans and how they interact, even if there is an overall lack of knowledge of the Iraqi culture.  Human terrain mapping isn’t just for professional anthropologists.  Every warrior is an anthropologist.

The sixth point may be the most critical of all, and the one closest to our heart.  The Captain’s Journal is noncommittal on Paul Bremer.  He did some good things.  He also did some nonproductive things.  But The Captain’s Journal is not noncommittal on Donald Rumsfeld.  We watched closely as he told jokes and acted coy in Pentagon press briefings while warriors died and lost arms and legs, brain function and eyesight.  In the most stunning revelation of the report, we learn that:

Critical to the understanding of the troop strength issue is that, as the senior US official in Iraq, the CPA Chief had the final say over US policy in Iraq. Bremerat times expressed displeasure to Coalition military leaders about the inadequate security situation and its relation to troop levels. Those concerns, however, did not persuade him to significantly change the CPA-led programs to train new Iraqi police and military forces or to agree that Iraqi military forces should have a role in internal security matters. Ultimately, neither Sanchez nor Bremer had the finalword on troop levels. That authority rested inside the Pentagon. Bremer remembered that the al-Sadr uprising and Sunni attacks of April 2004 conclusively demonstrated to him that Coalition troops were stretched too thin and that led him to send a written request for one or two more divisions—25,000 to 45,000 troops—to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. The CPA chief confirmed that in mid-May 2004 Rumsfeld received the request and that the Secretary of Defense passed it on to the Service Chiefs. According to Bremer, he never received an official response to his request.

If we began OIF with too few troops, at least Bremer noticed that we needed greater force projection early on and requested an increase in force size.  Rumsfeld must have been bored with the request, as he simply ignored it, choosing instead to smile and be clever with the press.

There are many more revelations, and some information that is commonly known among persons who have followed or been involved with Operation Iraqi Freedom.  There will be more to come on this from The Captain’s Journal.  This report is well worth the time and will take its place among required reading in professional military circles.   It is a good thing that such honesty and scholarship is forthcoming from Leavenworth.


  1. On June 30, 2008 at 8:35 pm, COL Reese said:

    As one of the authors of On Point II, thanks for your thoughtful commentary. I hope that a truly joint history of the war is done by the Department of Defense some day, for as you note, the Marines and Air Force and our Allies have all contributed to the war. We just don’t have that charter as an Army history organization.

    I hope that you and your readers will be able to find much food for thought in the book. The initial coverage of the book in most blogs and media accounts is fixated on our analysis of the command structure changes in the summer of 2003. There is much more to the book, specifically the remarkable transitions that took place across the Army in nearly every war- fighting function to deal with the reality of post-Saddam Iraq. The reversal of intelligence operations, the development of new combat tactics, the building of Iraqi security forces are just three of the many examples. I look forward to seeing what others have to say, and answering questions. I hope the book’s readers see this historical book in the context of the Army’s attempts to learn from its past to prepare for the future.

  2. On June 30, 2008 at 11:27 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Thank you sir for your visit to my humble blog. I sincerely appreciate the work you put into the report, and I look forward to continued study of its detail.

  3. On July 1, 2008 at 7:07 pm, jonesgp1996 said:

    It seems an unforunate trend in the Army (of which I am a member but my posts here do not, of course, reflect official DA or DoD policy) and perhaps more broadly in the national security apparatus of the US to forget our collective history and to not pass on institutional knowledge.

    Furthermore, while it is the civilian leadership’s prerogative to disregard the advice of the senior military leadership (such as Gen. Zinni, or in the case of the Army, Gen. Shinseki), they do so at their peril. As has been borne out in Iraq, you need a lot more troops to do the post-conflict security & constabulary work than you do for the “regime change.”

    Throughout its history, the US Army has had to do the “small wars” work quite a bit, but because it’s messy and complicated, we, as an institution, chose to expend our resources for training and equipment on the “near-peer competitor” fight, even though recent post-1989 experience showed us that that wasn’t the direction we should have been going.

    I sincerely hope that this war will be the watershed event that causes the Army to retain significant force structure geared for this type of conflict, but with our institutional history as a guide, I doubt that we will. The next time this sort of thing pops up, the Army will unnecessarily re-invent the wheel.

  4. On July 2, 2008 at 12:52 am, Brian H said:

    It seems that the junior and mid-level force members adapted quite well to changing demands, but that “highers” engaged in doctrinal turf wars.

    I would also like to see some of this analysis acknowledge that even a “large footprint” strategy would have had significant downsides, many of them very serious and unpredictable, rather than just assuming that avoiding the difficulties that did occur would have meant smooth and successful transition.

  5. On July 2, 2008 at 10:06 am, COL Reese said:

    The postings by our Captain and others have been quite interesting. Picking up on the kinetic and non-kinetic issue shows quite a bit of insight!

    The record of learning from the past is a mixed bag in any profession, and perhaps more so in the military. Generals are often accused of fighting the last war, or of fighting wars based on a false premise about this or that alleged revolution in military affairs. I’d like to offer another perspective.

    As the great British military historian, Sir Michael Howard, once said, “I am tempted to declare that whatever doctrine the Armed Forces are working on now, they have got it wrong. I am also tempted to declare that it does not matter that they have got it wrong. What does matter is their capacity to get it right quickly once the moment arrives. It is this flexibility both in the minds of the Armed Forces and in their organization, that above all needs to be developed in peacetime.”

    Predicting the nature of fighting or the nature of a future war is very hard, if not impossible. Even the vaunted German Army of 1939 and 1940 found itself unable to win against Russia and the UK in 1941 and 1942 employing the same operational strategy, equipment and well trained Army that succeeded so brilliantly in Poland, France and elsewhere.

    As we write in the book, pre-war assumptions about the likely nature of Iraq after Saddam proved to be way off the mark. Thus, pre-war assumptions about how to plan for and what means to employ in the post-invasion phase of the campaign were implemented at precisely the time that a new reality was making itself known on the ground. That new reality included massive looting and destruction of Iraq’s decrepit physical infrastructure, collapse of all civil administration, a collapse of law and order, economic collapse, massive political friction, and violent resistance to the US and its allies by a complex set of enemies. By July 2003, it was clear that the April-June decisions had to be massively changed.

    Whether the US Army, to use Howard’s phrase above, “got it right” quickly enough after the summer of 2003, would seem to me to be the most interesting historical verdict. One that I believe it is too soon to render.

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You are currently reading "On Point II & Lack of Planning for Iraq: Preliminary Thoughts", entry #1173 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) CENTCOM,Department of Defense,Iraq and was published June 29th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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