Iraqi occupation 'understaffed'

A nearly 700-page study released by the US Army found that “in the euphoria of early 2003,” US-based commanders prematurely believed their goals in Iraq had been reached and did not send enough troops to handle the occupation.

A nearly 700-page study released by the US Army found that “in the euphoria of early 2003,” US-based commanders prematurely believed their goals in Iraq had been reached and did not send enough troops to handle the occupation.

US President George Bush’s statement on May 1, 2003, that major combat operations were over reinforced that view, the study said.

It was written by Donald Wright and Col Timothy Reese of the Contemporary Operations Study Team at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who said that planners who requested more troops were ignored and that commanders in Baghdad were replaced without enough of a transition and lacked enough staff.

Gen William Wallace, commanding general of US Army Training and Doctrine Command, said in a foreword that it is no surprise that a report with these conclusions was written.

“One of the great and least understood qualities of the United States Army is its culture of introspection and self-examination,” he wrote.

The report said that the civilian and military planning for a post-Saddam Iraq was inadequate, and that the Army should have pushed the Joint Chiefs of Staff for better planning and preparation.

Retired military leaders, members of Congress, think tanks and others have already concluded that the occupation was understaffed.

At least 4,113 US military members have died in Iraq.

Hundreds of commanders and other soldiers and officials were interviewed for the report released yesterday. The Army ordered the study to review what happened in the 18 months after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. A report on the invasion was released earlier.

The report said that after Saddam’s regime was removed from power, most commanders and units expected to transition to stability and support operations, similar to what was seen in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Commanders with the mindset that victory had already been achieved believed that a post-combat Iraq would require “only a limited commitment by the US military and would be relatively peaceful and short as Iraqis quickly assumed responsibility”, the study said.

“Few commanders foresaw that full spectrum operations in Iraq would entail the simultaneous employment of offense, defence, stability, and support operations by units at all echelons of command to defeat new, vicious, and effective enemies,” it added.

The report said the first Bush administration and its advisers had assumed incorrectly that the Saddam regime would collapse after the first Gulf War.

When Saddam was so quickly defeated in 2003, there was an absence of authority that led to widespread looting and violence, the report said. Soldiers initially had no plan to deal with that. The administration’s decision to remove Saddam’s followers entirely from power caused governmental services to collapse, “fostering a huge unemployment problem”, it said.

Planners in the Iraq headquarters said 300,000 troops would be needed for the occupation. Even before the invasion, some planners had called for 300,000 troops to be sent for the invasion and occupation.

During an April 16, 2003, visit to Baghdad, coalition commander Gen Tommy Franks told his subordinate leaders to prepare to move most of their forces out of Iraq by September of that year, the report noted.

“In line with the pre-war planning and general euphoria at the rapid crumbling of the Saddam regime, Franks continued to plan for a very limited role for US ground forces in Iraq,” the report said.

The report said it wasn’t until July 16, 2003, that Franks’ successor, Gen John Abizaid, said coalition forces were facing a classic guerrilla insurgency.

Even so, the coalition made some progress, only to have its optimism dashed after the insurgency boiled over in April 2004, when Sunni Arab insurgents and Shiite militias launched violent assaults in many parts of Iraq, the report said.

The authors said the Army had considerable experience and training for guerrilla wars but had not been in one like Iraq since 1992 in Somalia. They said former Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Franks “that he thought too few troops were envisioned in the (invasion) plan.”

Some commanders told the authors they asked about plans for making the country stable and got no answers.

The “post-war situation in Iraq was severely out of line with the suppositions made at nearly every level before the war”, the report said.

Its writers said it was clear in January 2005 that the Army would remain in Iraq for some time, the writers concluded. The report covered the period from May 2003 to January 2005.

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