Army Historian Cites Lack of Postwar Plan
- this isn't very cheerful reading for Christmas, but I
think it's very important.
Army Historian Cites Lack of Postwar Plan
Major Calls Effort in Iraq 'Mediocre'
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page A01
The U.S. military invaded Iraq without a formal plan
for occupying and stabilizing the country and this
high-level failure continues to undercut what has been
a "mediocre" Army effort there, an Army historian and
strategist has concluded.
"There was no Phase IV plan" for occupying Iraq after
the combat phase, writes Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who
served as an official historian of the campaign and
later as a war planner in Iraq. While a variety of
government offices had considered the possible
situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson
writes, no one produced an actual document laying out
a strategy to consolidate the victory after major
combat operations ended.
Looking at the chaos that followed the defeat of the
Saddam Hussein regime, a military officer's study
says, "The United States, its Army and its coalition
of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."
"While there may have been 'plans' at the national
level, and even within various agencies within the war
zone, none of these 'plans' operationalized the
problem beyond regime collapse" -- that is, laid out
how U.S. forces would be moved and structured, Wilson
writes in an essay that has been delivered at several
academic conferences but not published. "There was no
adequate operational plan for stability operations and
Similar criticisms have been made before, but until
now they have not been stated so authoritatively and
publicly by a military insider positioned to be
familiar with top-secret planning. During the period
in question, from April to June 2003, Wilson was a
researcher for the Army's Operation Iraqi Freedom
Study Group. Then, from July 2003 to March 2004, he
was the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne
Division, which was stationed in northern Iraq.
A copy of Wilson's study as presented at Cornell
University in October was obtained by The Washington
As a result of the failure to produce a plan, Wilson
asserts, 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," he writes. "The United States,
its Army and its coalition of the willing have been
playing catch-up ever since."
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, Wilson reports. Phase I covers preparation
for combat, followed by initial operations, Phase II,
and combat, Phase III. Post-combat operations are
called Phase IV.
Many in the Army have blamed Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon civilians for the
unexpectedly difficult occupation of Iraq, but Wilson
reserves his toughest criticism for Army commanders
who, he concludes, failed to grasp the strategic
situation in Iraq and so not did not plan properly for
victory. He concludes that those who planned the war
suffered from "stunted learning and a reluctance to
Army commanders still misunderstand the strategic
problem they face and therefore are still pursuing a
flawed approach, writes Wilson, who is scheduled to
teach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next
year. "Plainly stated, the 'western coalition' failed,
and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom
in its fullness," he asserts.
"Reluctance in even defining the situation . . . is
perhaps the most telling indicator of 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," he comments.
Because of this failure, Wilson concludes, the U.S.
military remains "perhaps in peril of losing the
'war,' even after supposedly winning it."
Overall, he grades the U.S. military performance in
Iraq as "mediocre."
Wilson's essay amounts to an indictment of the
education and performance of senior U.S. officials
involved in the war. "U.S. war planners, practitioners
and the civilian leadership conceived of the war far
too narrowly" and tended to think of operations after
the invasion "as someone else's mission," he says. In
fact, Wilson says, those later operations were
critical because they were needed to win the war
rather than just decapitate Saddam Hussein's
Air Force Capt. Chris Karns, a spokesman for the U.S.
Central Command, which as the U.S. military
headquarters for the Middle East oversaw planning for
the war in Iraq, said, "A formal Phase IV plan did
exist." He said he could not explain how Wilson came
to a different conclusion.
Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who as chief of the Central
Command led the war planning in 2002 and 2003, states
in his recent memoir, "American Soldier," 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," he adds. At another point, he
states, "I was confident in the Phase IV plan."
Asked about other officers' reaction to his essay,
Wilson said in an e-mail Monday, "What active-duty
feedback I have received (from military officers
attending the conferences) has been relatively
positive," with "general agreement with the premises I
offer in the work."
He said he has no plans to publish the essay, in part
because he would expect difficulty in getting the
Army's approval, but said he did not object to having
it written about. "I think this is something that has
to get out, so it can be considered," he said in a
telephone interview. "There actually is something we
can fix here, in terms of operational planning."
In his analysis of U.S. military operations in 2003 in
northern Iraq, Wilson also touches on another
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," he states.
Wilson contends that 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,' " he