Now this is a General’s critique I find useful Posted by: McQ
on Thursday, May 04, 2006
Gen Barry McCaffery has written an AAR (after action report) on a trip he made to Iraq. Given the recent criticisms of a 6 pack of retired generals, I read McCaffery's report with a jaundiced eye. As it turns out, I was pleased to read an excellent assessment filled not only with praise where it was deserved, but, for a change, constructive criticism given with an eye to helping the situation v. attacking the chain of command. This is probably one of the most extensive and best assessments I've seen to date.
McCaffery has never held his fire when he thought things weren't quite right. In 2003 during the actual assault into Iraq, he criticized the troop configuration based on the order of battle for Saddam's army:
Only one mechanized division (the 3rd Infantry) and elements of an air assault division (the 101st Airborne) had fully deployed into Kuwait when the attack started. A single brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was the only theater reserve. There was no armored cavalry regiment to provide flank and rear security. There was little reinforcing Army artillery. There were few military police battalions to provide security for the lines of communication. In sum, the plan was marred by interference from Defense Department decision makers with no battle experience. These officials were prisoners of their own assumptions that the Iraqis would come apart under the "shock and awe" thunderstorm.
We are now in an ugly situation. But we can, and will, recover. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has dismissed these problems as pinprick attacks by "ones and twos." Tell that to the marines still battling to hold open the critical bridges at An Nasiriyah. Tell it to the 3rd Infantry Division troops who now must destroy five Iraqi Republican Guard heavy divisions, supported by only two Marine tank battalions and the tank-killing Apaches of the 101st Airborne. Tell it to the composite British division troops who are trying to work "smash and grab" operations with a handful of infantry battalions in Basra.
As it turns out, the problems ended up being "pinpricks" as it concerns the conventional battle and we did indeed smash the Iraqi military but on a tactical level, given that order of battle, his fears were well founded.
In his most recent report, based on extensive visits, interviews, observations and briefings in Iraq, McCaffery issues a very useful summary of the state of our effort in that country. Some highlights.
The morale, fighting effectiveness, and confidence of U.S. combat forces continue to be simply awe-inspiring. In every sensing session and interaction - I probed for weakness and found courage, belief in the mission, enormous confidence in their sergeants and company grade officers, an understanding of the larger mission, a commitment to creating an effective Iraqi Army and Police, unabashed patriotism, and a sense of humor. All of these soldiers, NCOs and young officers were volunteers for combat. Many were on their second combat tour - several were on the third or fourth combat tour. Many had re-enlisted to stay with their unit on its return to a second Iraq deployment. Many planned to re-enlist regardless of how long the war went on.
We have the finest military we have ever fielded in the military history of this country. If you ever had doubts about the younger generation, please put them aside. As they've demonstrated on countless occassions, when it is necessary, they will stand and be counted. God bless 'em.
The Iraqi Army is real, growing, and willing to fight. They now have lead action of a huge and rapidly expanding area and population. The battalion level formations are in many cases excellent - most are adequate. However, they are very badly equipped with only a few light vehicles, small arms, most with body armor and one or two uniforms. They have almost no mortars, heavy machine guns, decent communications equipment, artillery, armor, or IAF air transport, helicopter, and strike support. Their logistics capability is only now beginning to appear. Their Institutional Army (Military Schools, logistics base, manufacturing) is beginning to show encouraging signs of self-initiative.
As we've noted here any number of times, the problem now is logistics. As McCaffery notes, we have to make that the priority and we have to properly equip these units. CENTCOM has said that is a priority for this year, and as McCaffery notes, it is "showing encouraging signs of self-initiative".
Once we get that piece in place, the number of level 1 battalions will explode (and I don't mean that literally).
The Iraqi police are beginning to show marked improvement in capability since MG Joe Peterson took over the program. The National Police Commando Battalions are very capable - a few are simply superb and on par with the best U.S. SWAT units in terms of equipment, courage, and training. Their intelligence collection capability is better than ours in direct HUMINT.
That's the good news concerning the police. But there are also significant problems within this part of security forces:
The police are heavily infiltrated by both the AIF and the Shia militia. They are widely distrusted by the Sunni population. They are incapable of confronting local armed groups. They inherited a culture of inaction, passivity, human rights abuses, and deep corruption.
This will be a ten year project requiring patience, significant resources, and an international public face. This is a very, very tough challenge which is a prerequisite to the Iraqis winning the counter-insurgency struggle they will face in the coming decade. We absolutely can do this. But this police program is now inadequately resourced.
More focus and resources are necessary as is obvious by McCaffery's remarks. And, of course, loyalty to the Iraqi government is extremely important in this sort of policing. Eventual removal of militia sympathisers and the disarming of the militias are steps which must be accomplished before the Iraqi people (and especially the Sunni segment) will come to trust the police.
The creation of an Iraqi government of national unity is a central requirement. We must help create a legitimate government for which the Iraqi security forces will fight and die. If we do not see the successful development of a pluralistic administration in the first 120 days of the emerging Jawad al-Maliki leadership - there will be significant chance of the country breaking apart in warring factions among the Sunnis and Shia - with a separatist Kurdish north embroiled in their own potential struggle with the Turks.
The emerging government must take charge or risk losing it all is McCaffery's assessment. He bases that on what he identifies as significant "incompetence and corruption" within the interim Iraqi government which has been less than successful in gaining the trust of the tribes, families and sectarian factions of Iraq. No trust, no loyalty to the government. The default position will be loyalty to a sect, a tribe or a militia. The result could be the eventual destruction of Iraq through civil war.
Then McCaffery makes a key point, one which most of the naysayers like, most recently, retired LTG William E. Odom, seem to miss:
However, in my view, the Iraqis are likely to successfully create a governing entity. The intelligence picture strongly portrays a population that wants a federal Iraq, wants a national Army, rejects the AIF as a political future for the nation, and is optimistic that their life can be better in the coming years. Unlike the Balkans—the Iraqis want this to work.
Again and again you have to go back to the three votes they've had, with increasing attendence each time and understand that Iraqis know what is at stake and they want this to work. And unlike many critics here, they seem to understand that the process takes time, there will be detours and problems and it might not be exactly what they hoped for, but they still want it.
It is likely that the Iraqis will pull together enough political muscle to get through the coming 30 day crisis to produce a cabinet to submit to the Parliament - as well as the four month deadline to consider constitutional amendments. The resulting government is likely to be weak and barely functional. It may stagger along and fail in 18 months. But it is very likely to prevent the self-destruction of Iraq.
Be prepared, though, if what McCaffery suggests happens, to see Iraq's obituary writ large by the major media throughout the world.
The foreign jihad:
The foreign jihadist fighters have been defeated as a strategic and operational threat to the creation of an Iraqi government. Aggressive small unit combat action by Coalition Forces combined with good intelligence - backed up by new Iraqi Security Forces is making an impact. The foreign fighters remain a serious tactical menace. However, they are a minor threat to the heavily armed and wary U.S. forces. They cannot successfully stop the Iraqi police and army recruitment. Their brutal attacks on the civil population are creating support for the emerging government. The foreign fighters have failed to spark open civil war from the Shia.
That, of course, is the al Qaeda portion of the "insurgency". And, as McCaffery further notes, the majority of the insurgency is centered among the Iraqi Sunnis. As we've reported, there are ongoing negotiations by the new Iraqi government with some of the Sunni insurgent factions to have them lay down their arms.
But as McCaffery says concerning the foreign fighters, "U.S. Marine and Army combat effectiveness - combined with very effective information operations—- has taken the fun out of Jihad."
US Inter-agency support for the Iraqi government:
The U.S. Inter-Agency Support for our strategy in Iraq is grossly inadequate. A handful of brilliant, courageous, and dedicated Foreign Service Officers have held together a large, constantly changing, marginally qualified, inadequately experienced U.S. mission. The U.S. influence on the Iraqi national and regional government has been extremely weak. U.S. consultants of the IRMO do not live and work with their Iraqi counterparts, are frequently absent on leave or home consultations, are often in-country for short tours of 90 days to six months, and are frequently gapped with no transfer of institutional knowledge.
This is a no-go. One of the things we've learned militarily, at least within the Army, is that one-year tours, at a minimum, are necessary to have an impact in the assigned area. Why we feel we can do the same thing on the civilian side with short tours of 90 days to 6 months makes no sense. The other thing we've learned is we have to live, eat, sleep, work, play and fight with our Iraqi counterparts in order to get them to the level necessary to defend themselves. Why the civilian side of the house would think a different approach which does none of those things would be as effective also makes no sense.
McCaffery pulls no punches in his criticism of this aspect of our Iraqi mission:
In Iraq, nothing is possible without carefully managed relationships between the U.S. officials and their Iraqi interlocutors. Trust between people is the prerequisite and basis of progress for this deeply Arab culture. The other U.S. agencies of government such as Justice, DHS, Commerce, Agriculture, and Transportation are in Iraq in small numbers for too short time periods. The U.S. Departments actually fight over who will pay the $11.00 per day per diem on food. This bureaucratic nonsense is taking place in the context of a war costing the American people $7 billion a month - and a battalion of soldiers and Marines killed or wounded a month.
Leaderless bureaucracy will always yield this sort of inefficiency and ineptness. Someone needs to take charge and quickly if we're to turn this part of our effort around. As McCaffery points out, this nonsense is costing us dearly in both blood and treasure.
We face a serious strategic dilemma. Are U.S. combat troops operating in a police action governed by the rule of Iraqi law? Or are they a Coalition Military Force supporting a counter-insurgency campaign in a nation with almost no functioning institutions? The situation must remain ambiguous until the Iraqi government is actually operating effectively.
One can only assume, until the government actually does begin to function, that the latter condition prevails. Again, I go back to McCaffery's point that the emerging Iraqi government must be functional, no matter how minimally, within 120 days if this is all going to work.
Prisoners and detainees:
Thanks to strong CENTCOM leadership and supervision at every level, our detainee policy has dramatically corrected the problems of the first year of the War on Terrorism. Detainee practices and policy in detention centers in both Iraq and Afghanistan that I have visited are firm, professional, humane, and well supervised. However, we may be in danger of over-correcting. The AIF are exploiting our overly restrictive procedures and are routinely defying the U.S. interrogators. It is widely believed that the US has a “14 day catch and release policy” and the AIF “suspect” will soon be back in action.
An interesting observation here by McCaffery. We've cleaned up the problems of Abu Gharib so much that now we have a different problem. Those captured now openly defy interrogators thinking that we wouldn't dare abuse them, given the world's reaction to that previously. However I'm pleased that leadership has exerted itself to the point that it has corrected the problems that led to the Abu Ghraib debacle.
Another interesting observation:
There is a rapidly growing animosity in our deployed military forces toward the U.S. media. We need to bridge this gap. Armies do not fight wars - countries fight wars. We need to continue talking to the American people through the press. They will be objective in reporting facts if we facilitate their information gathering mission. The country is way too dangerous for the media to operate in any other manner than temporarily imbedded with U.S. or Iraqi security forces. The enormous good will already generated by the superb performance of U.S. combat forces will ebb away if we do not continue to actively engage media at every level. We also cannot discount 2000 IED’s a month, hundreds of US casualties a month, or the chaos of the central battlefield of the insurgency - which is Baghdad.
Of course the fact that Iraq is dangerous and fewer and fewer journalists seem to desire embedding with US units, the reporting in Iraq is far from complete. And that, I'd wager, is what is engendering the "growing animosity" among our deployed troops to the media in general as we talked about here.
He summarizes, and I summarize his summary:
The U.S. will remain in a serious crisis in Iraq during the coming 24 months.
The situation is perilous, uncertain, and extreme - but far from hopeless.
The U.S. Armed Forces are a rock.
The Iraqi security forces are now surging into a lead role in internal counter-insurgency operations.
The Iraqi political system is fragile but beginning to play a serious role in the debate over the big challenges facing the Iraqi state - oil, religion, territory, power, separatism, and revenge.
There is no reason why the U.S. cannot achieve our objectives in Iraq. Our aim must be to create a viable federal state under the rule of law which does not: enslave its own people, threaten its neighbors, or produce weapons of mass destruction. This is a ten year task. We should be able to draw down most of our combat forces in 3-5 years. We have few alternatives to the current US strategy which is painfully but gradually succeeding.
Which leaves the pregnant question:
Do we have the political will, do we have the military power, will we spend the resources required to achieve our aims?
Good analysis; I’ve also seen and commented at Belmont Club on the report.
Your exerpts don’t include the part about needing more money; where I disagree with the General. He wants aid, I want loans. Municipal loans to elected Iraqis who will own the cash, and the reconstruction projects, and repay the loans. Thru taxes. (yechh, but TANSTAAFL)
The Iraqis should own the reconstruction, and Iraqis should be rebuilding and Iraq, and getting credit (and security responsibility).
Your exerpts don’t include the part about needing more money...
Tom I just don’t think money will ever be the problem. Temporary shortages, yes, like what he’s talking about, but run out? Not going to happen ... unless, going back to the pregnant question, we lack the will to see this through.
I think the good General is a little too trusting of the media’s fervent belief in their own objectivity with regards to information handed to them... or at least in the editors-back-home’s willngness to pass on that information to the American People.
(How many times have we seen Editorials, from editors, not just op-eds from contributers, implying that reporting positive news without an overwhelming amount of bad news or sneering language to ’balance’ it is "cheerleading" or "carrying water for the Bush Administration"?)
That said and out of the way, like you I find this critique Useful And Informative, McQ. I hope among the "And now, from our military expert" set more follow his lead, and I hope he gets this widely published and read. Kudos to McCaffery for making the visit in depth and not letting his his assumptions overrule what he heard and saw.