It is no longer news that the Army was ill-equipped to handle the post-invasion occupation of Iraq; there have been volumes written by military insiders and seasoned analysts on the subject. What's new is the source of the latest criticism: the Army itself. A newly released Army history says that some of the decisionmaking by top military leaders was seriously flawed, resulting in a troubled and deadly occupation.
Significant blame is laid at the feet of retired Gen. Tommy Franks, the former commander of CentCom at MacDill Air Force Base who led the invasion force. According to the 700-page report titled "On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign," Franks misread what kind of American presence would be necessary to secure and stabilize the nation that the U.S. military was about to defeat.
Franks and the Bush administration failed to anticipate that following major combat operations a substantial and sustained occupation would fall to the U.S. military. The study says that there was a dearth of detailed plans for postwar actions, relying instead on an optimistic view — inaccurate as it turned out — that stewarding a postwar Iraq would become the responsibility of civilian agencies, and the U.S. military presence could be sharply reduced.
Army historians note that one plan devised by a planner at the land war command called for 300,000 troops to secure postwar Iraq. But Franks and the Bush administration weren't interested in an analysis that recommended nearly doubling the number of troops deployed. Instead, according to the study, Franks in April 2003 told his officers to prepare for a rapid troop reduction after a short-term stabilizing operation.
The study also faults Franks for ordering the establishment of a new headquarters and leadership in Iraq at precisely the moment when experience and agility were needed. Army historians note that the command that helped plan the Iraq invasion and the taking of Baghdad was replaced by Franks, the result being that the new headquarters took months to pull itself together before it was able to function effectively.
One general told Army historians the leadership replacement in Iraq was "a recipe for disaster."
The occupation of Iraq has been a spectacular and tragic bungle, from the infamous actions of chief civilian administrator Paul Bremer who disbanded the Iraq military and banished former Baath Party members from government jobs, to the Pentagon's substitution of wishful thinking for war planning.
The Army study seems to suggest that Franks was more committed to the unfounded assumptions about postwar Iraq held by the Pentagon and the White House than addressing the realities on the ground. Even as it was becoming clear that an insurgency was growing and violent chaos was spreading throughout Iraq, Franks failed to adequately adjust his thinking. He continued to plan for a scaled down role for the military.
Franks left his CentCom post in July 2003, leaving to others the job of putting things right. His place in the history of the Iraq war has been established, and it demonstrates that a general who cares more about what his political bosses think than what the conflict demands will ultimately fail both.