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Army Critiques Post-Invasion Phase of Iraq War

A U.S. Army report that will be released on Monday morning blasts the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war for being poorly planned and badly mismanaged. Military commanders were also given little guidance from the Pentagon and Army leadership in Iraq was both understaffed and ill-equipped, according to the report written by the Combat Studies Institute, an Army think-tank.

What's different about this report is the sourcing, says NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz. "These aren't anonymous quotes. We know who's talking." About 200 active duty or retired officers were interviewed for this report. All were "very closely involved in the decision making process at the time," says Raz.

The story was first reported by The New York Times on Sunday.

Although both civilian and military leaders at the Pentagon have been aware of "disastrous errors" in decision making that plagued the post-Invasion phase of the war, Raz says some have been "very sensitive about this topic for five years now, almost to the point where they're defensive."

One critical mistake: After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Army expected the Iraqi bureaucracy to continue functioning and they didn't expect to be doing that much work after the initial invasion. Gen. Tommy Franks, who at the time was the commander of the U.S. Central Command made the decision to replace the operational headquarters in Baghdad led by Lt. Gen. David McKiernan with a less experienced tactical team led by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

Failed Assumptions

McKiernan's team, which was referred to as "the dream team" by senior Army officials, was moved south to Kuwait. Franks expected to see most us troops out of Iraq within months so his appointment of Sanchez' V Corps to lead the post-war operation in Baghdad was based on the assumption that it would be a temporary, caretaker command.

"When we found that they [McKiernan's staff] were moved south, we were shocked," retired Gen. Jack Keane, the Army vice chief of staff at the time, tells NPR.

Sanchez' V Corps staff was not trained to manage stability operations, let alone the brewing Iraqi insurgency.

"[V Corps] was focused on fighting Saddam's army," Sanchez, now retired, tells NPR. "It was never trained or resourced to conduct the operational tasks that were being asked of it."

Origins of the Insurgency

Compounding the problem for Sanchez was the decision by L. Paul Bremer, head of the coalition provisional authority, to disband the Iraqi army and restrict former Baath party members from working in the government. With a stroke of his pen, Bremer put hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of work— Iraqis who eventually took part in the insurgency.

Unlike previous accounts of the post-invasion phase of the war, the Army's report places considerable blame squarely on the shoulders of its own senior leaders—most notably—though not explicitly, Gen. Tommy Franks.

"I believe that we could have insisted on more comprehensive planning for the aftermath of the invasion," says Keane. "I think we could have asked tougher questions like 'what happens if the regime doesn't surrender?'"

The report, "On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign," is the second part of the Army's official history of the Iraq war. The next installment is expected to be released in a year.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.