Global Policy Forum

Lessons from Iraq: Rand Offers War 101 Textbook


By Joseph L. Galloway*

Knight Ridder
May 4, 2005

It isn't all that often that a think tank dependent on government contracts dares tell the emperor that he is naked, and that makes a recent Rand Corp. report to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on lessons learned in Iraq all the more remarkable. The Rand report puts the finger on what went wrong there and makes "a case for change, and even urgency" in fixing those problems in a brief and frank distillation of what its researchers found in more than 20 studies focused on the Iraq invasion and what has followed.

Rand, although independent now, was originally formed by the U.S. government and is often hired by the Pentagon to conduct major research on military operations. The Rand researchers found that the "shock and awe" air attacks against the enemy leadership did not achieve the advertised objectives of "decapitating, isolating or breaking the will" of that leadership. They added that future operations should not be predicated on expectations of fast regime collapse through air attacks because of a host of limitations, some self-imposed to avoid civilian casualties.

The study also cautioned the Pentagon to move very carefully as it shifts the Army to a family of lightly armored fighting vehicles heavily reliant on networked systems of intelligence information until such time as those fighting the war at lower levels have the wide-band satellite communications to access the information and trained personnel to interpret the images of what's waiting up ahead for a fast-moving tank column.

Rand said that division commanders and above were well served by the increased situational awareness provided by aerial sensor aircraft and satellite coverage in Iraq, but lower-level commanders actually fighting the battles didn't get the specific intelligence needed in time to make use of it.

Again putting a finger on a major problem, the Rand study sharply criticized the Pentagon for failure to plan in detail for postwar stabilization and reconstruction "largely because of the prevailing view that the task would not be difficult." In fact, the study said, it is highly likely that in future operations the United States and its allies will quickly defeat outmatched opponents but then spend "months or years winning the peace." The Rand researchers recommend that the planning process for future interventions be stood on its head and the military and civilian resources needed to secure the peace and launch reconstruction be given primary focus and priority in resources. The Rand study added, with understatement, "Some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning also needs to be introduced."

In a separate section the report criticized National Security Council and Department of Defense coordination for Iraq operations. It said the NSC focused on military operations and humanitarian aid, while postwar planning was handed to Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, and this approach "worked poorly." The study recommended that in the future "such responsibility (for post-war reconstruction) reside with a senior State Department official who would be appointed as a special presidential envoy."

The report said that no one bothered to provide for the security of the Iraqi people after Baghdad fell "given the expectations that the Iraqi government would remain largely intact, the Iraqi people would welcome the American presence, and local militia, police and the regular (Iraqi) army would be capable of providing law and order." In fact the burden of handling law and order in Iraq fell, by default, to U.S. and coalition military forces who were ill-prepared and unavailable in the numbers required to secure so unruly a nation and people.

The Rand researchers said in the future the U.S. military cannot assume that someone else will take that responsibility - and American soldiers need to be trained and prepared to handle law-and-order missions as soon as they have toppled the enemy regime. The report added that "Iraq underscores ... the overwhelming organizational tendency within the U.S. military not to absorb historical lessons when planning and conducting counterinsurgency operations."

It recommended that in the future American forces assigned to this duty should be composed of troops with training and skills similar to special operations forces - people who know the language and culture of the country and the vital importance of political, economic, intelligence, organizational and psychological dimensions in defeating an insurgency.

The researchers also raised questions about the assignment of special operations forces in Iraq primarily to the mission of chasing down "high-value targets" when their expertise also includes training local forces so critical to a successful counter-insurgency operation. That skill was not used in Iraq.

At the very end, the 10-page Rand report even made cautious note of the confusion and failings of the sensitive process of sending active-duty and reserve troops overseas "led to high-level micro-management, delay and disruption."

About the Author: Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young."

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