US Military Could Lose Iraq War
Army Historian Cites Lack of Postwar Plan
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
The US 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 US victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended.
"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 US 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 support operations."
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 Post.
As a result of the failure to produce a plan, Wilson asserts, the US 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, US 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 US 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 adapt."
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 US 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 US 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 US military remains "perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it."