Pentagon Blamed for Lack of Postwar Planning in Iraq
By Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 1, 2005; Page A03
A study of U.S. military operations in Iraq, prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, sharply criticizes Pentagon attempts to plan for the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion two years ago, saying stabilization and reconstruction issues "were addressed only very generally" and "no planning was undertaken to ensure the security of the Iraqi people."
The study, done by the Rand Corp., an independent research group that was created by the U.S. government and frequently does analyses for the Pentagon, also says the experience in Iraq has underscored the Pentagon's tendency "not to absorb historical lessons" when battling insurgencies. It notes a lack of political-military coordination and of "actionable intelligence" in the counterinsurgency campaign, and urges creation in the Army of a "dedicated cadre of counterinsurgency specialists."
The study highlights shortcomings as well in the conduct of the invasion. It cites inflated expectations at the outset about airstrikes in toppling the Baghdad government, poor performance by Apache helicopters in attack missions, delays in bomb damage assessments, gaps in tactical intelligence for battlefield commanders, disruptions in supply lines and inadequate coordination between Special Operations units and conventional forces.
Although the report notes that Iraq's poorly trained and ill-equipped forces proved "no match" for U.S. troops, it says the conflict exposed some important problem areas for the U.S. military that need fixing.
"There is a case for change, and even urgency, in those areas where problems arose even in such favorable conditions," concludes the confidential report, a copy of which was made available to The Washington Post.
Rumsfeld, who received the report last month, sent it to members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and civilian leaders of the military services with a March 1 cover note saying the Rand recommendations "are worth our careful consideration." He set a deadline of yesterday for responses and added that he had asked his then-deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, to gather the group together "and discuss what changes might be appropriate."
Although relatively brief for the breadth and complexity of the issues it addresses, the 10-page report represents a distillation of more than 20 other studies of the Iraq conflict undertaken by Rand's staff, according to a letter accompanying it by James A. Thomson, Rand's president. The study makes no attempt to provide a complete assessment of either the invasion or its aftermath, focusing instead on 15 areas that Rand's analysts have concluded need improvement.
Some of the report's conclusions echo those in earlier internal Pentagon after-action reviews. But their inclusion in a paper done directly for Rumsfeld -- and his decision to use the study as a basis for discussion with the Pentagon's senior leadership -- would seem to give the findings and recommendations added weight.
A Rand spokesman, David M. Egner, called the report "a private communication" between Thomson and Rumsfeld. "So it would be inappropriate to discuss this communication," he said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the report "highlights some important lessons learned" but is "still under review by Defense Department officials."
In discussing the conduct of the war, the report notes that the opening salvo of airstrikes, dubbed "shock and awe" by some at the Pentagon, did not precipitate the collapse of the government that airpower advocates had hoped for.
"The attacks on 'regime' targets (leadership, command and control and infrastructure) were able to disrupt but not eliminate the ability of Iraqi leaders to communicate with the Iraqi people and military forces," the report says. "For the future, a caution is in order with respect to expectations of what air attacks on 'regime' targets can achieve."
Later helicopter attack missions against Iraqi forces "proved risky and not very productive," the report says, a reference to the troubles Apache units encountered dealing with ground fire from enemy fighters hidden in populated areas. "Though planned, no air assault operations were undertaken," the report notes, concluding that the experience "raises questions about some of the emerging concepts" for deep helicopter strikes in enemy territory.
Intelligence gathering, too, fell short. Airborne sensors were "in many cases unable to locate and identify" the swarms of Iraqi paramilitary fighters who moved along roads in civilian vehicles or hid out in built-up neighborhoods, the report says. When information about enemy locations did become available, it frequently failed to get far enough down the chain of command.
"Division commanders and above were well serviced, while tactical commanders often did not receive specific or actionable intelligence," the report says. "Tactical units were often moving too fast for the information to be useful, or the information was not detailed enough."
Bomb damage assessments "fell behind early" as a result of bad weather, a scarcity of sensor systems and inadequate reporting, the report notes. "Turn-around times were measured in days instead of hours." As a result, U.S. aircraft restruck some targets "unnecessarily," and ground forces had "scant knowledge of the condition of enemy forces along the route of advance."
Difficulties in collecting and disseminating intelligence from airborne sensors have persisted in more recent counterinsurgency operations, the report says. Until such links prove more effective, the report advises caution in proceeding with a costly Army program called Future Combat Systems, which envisions an array of new lightly armored fighting vehicles and robots that would rely heavily on networked systems of information.
Planning for the invasion's aftermath rested with the Defense Department, the report recalls, rather than with the State Department or the National Security Council. "Overall, this approach worked poorly," the report says, noting that the Pentagon lacked the expertise, funding authority and contacts with civilian aid organizations for the job.
When the insurgency arose, the report says, U.S. authorities failed to understand how it differed from past "wars of national liberation" or from a "classical guerrilla-type campaign."
"Iraqi insurgents are groups of disparate opposition elements with no center of gravity, no clear leader, no aim to seize and hold territory, and no single defined or unifying ideology," the report says. "The Iraqi insurgency demonstrates the closest manifestation yet of 'net war,' which is characterized by flatter, more linear networks rather than the pyramidal hierarchies and command and control systems of traditional insurgent organizations."
In future counterinsurgency operations, the report concludes, the Pentagon should rely more on forces with specialized training in such warfare. Planning for postwar recovery, the report adds, must involve greater coordination between the Pentagon and other government agencies and greater attention by defense officials to securing the peace. The report recommends setting up "some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning."
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