Slate's Fred Kaplan has some provocative questions
for the Pentagon
in the wake of our successful campaign in Iraq. I think these questions are important for two main reasons. First, we owe some transparency to the world so that they can see our motives were pure, and that American foreign policy is not imperialistic. Second, our military (and its civilian leadership) must answer "after action review" questions like these in order to learn from this war - and get better for the next one.
I'm not sure if or when the Pentagon will answer these questions. I have some insight into a few of them though, and would like to offer what I think are the likely answers to these questions.
1. "What did happen between the first and second week of the war?"
Clearly, the U.S. adjusted its plan in response to the tactics employed by Iraqi soldiers as they faced American ground forces. We took a more deliberate approach in response to their guerilla tactics, taking to care to clear areas instead of simply securing them. We also took the time to pound the Republican Guard
divisions and "set the conditions" for our assault before engaging in a toe-to-toe slugfest. LTG William Wallace's
that "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against..." will go down in history, not so much because it was said, but because the U.S. noticed this fact and reacted to it faster than the Iraqis could react themselves.
2. "...the Karbala Gap turned out to be the proverbial cakewalk. Or at least there were no reports of fighting. What happened? Did the U.S. troops feign an advance to draw out the Iraqis, then blast them with artillery and airstrikes?"
Probably. Again, why fight the Iraqi's "vaunted" Republican Guard in a head-to-head tank fight if you have aircraft and artillery that can do the job instead? In economic terms, American military strategy always
seeks to substitute capital for manpower when possible -- send a bullet, not a man. (See discussion of "shaping operations
" in Army doctrine) Or in some cases, send a precision-guided munition, not a tank round. More details will emerge when our soldiers come home and go through extensive debriefing by the Center for Army Lessons Learned
. I anxiously await those reports.
3. "Given how relatively easily the 3rd Infantry and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force barreled into Baghdad, just what was the Army's 4th Infantry Division slated to do in this war?"
I'm not sure I agree with the "relatively easy" part; there wasn't much that was easy about it. That said, I think the 4th Infantry Division
would have made the assault easier. If they were applying pressure from the north, we might not have dropped the 173rd Airborne Brigade
into Northern Iraq. In doing so, we took a huge operational risk by putting those light infantry on the ground without a substantial armored or mechanized force. 4ID probably would have moved in from the north, taken Mosul and Tikrit, and applied pressure on Baghdad from the north. 4ID might have also forced a redeployment of Republican Guard from the south of the city, taking forces away from the mix that fought 3ID and the Marines as they advanced to the city.
4. "Why weren't U.S. troops ordered to stop looters or guard more ministries, hospitals, and museums?"
Mr. Kaplan thinks we could have airlifted hundreds or thousands of MPs
to Baghdad after taking the city. Maybe... but not likely. The U.S. military is fairly stretched right now, and we didn't have large numbers of soldiers ready for this kind of mission. (Maybe we should have) As far as MPs go, they're in short supply
, and maybe that's something to look at too as we adjust the Army's force structure for the nation-building mission it's now going to be shouldered with for the forseeable future. The answer here boils down to priorities. We had a finite number of boots on the ground. Security and force protection were the top priorities; security of critical infrastructure and other key buildings came before the hospitals, ministries and museums. Maybe this formula should be adjusted, but I think the military's calculus was more right than Mr. Kaplan gives them credit for. In choosing between critical infrastructure (like a water storage site) and a museum, I think you have to secure the infrastructure first.
5. "The Pentagon never likes to discuss my fifth question, but at some point, somebody is going to have to assess civilian casualties."
Yes. This is going to be a really hard question for a lot of reasons. But we must answer it, if for no reason than this will have significant ramifications for post-war reconstruction. Our air strategy deliberatively avoided critical civilian infrastructure and our bombing did not hit major residential areas, but there were doubtless many civilian casualties as we fought up from Kuwait. Some accounting is necessary.
6. "Question 6 is a geeky military one. How big a role did the high-tech drones play in this war? ... to what degree were the targets spotted from the air—and to what degree by soldiers or special-operations forces, old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground human beings?
I have no idea what the answer is here, but it's more than an academic question. The drones in question were acquired for billions of dollars, and the entire future of military transformation
hinges on how well this strategy worked in Iraq. Defense contractors stand to win or lose billions of dollars from the way we draw lessons from this war. For more on this answer, see this piece by Eric Schmitt
in the April 18 New York Times. (Thanks to DefenseTech
for the tip)
7. "Saddam never did fire Scuds, at Israel or anyplace else. Was this because special ops found missiles and took them out? Or was it because Saddam never had any Scuds to begin with?"
As Mr. Kaplan writes, this is a very secretive area. Until this mission is complete, I don't think we'll see much coming out of the Pentagon because it might compromise the units still conducting such missions in Iraq. We know that Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Air Force combat controllers and PJs, and Marine reconnaissance units all worked inside Iraq before and during the war. The Pentagon said that this effort was the largest use of special operations forces in history. I look forward to reading the accounts of their exploits.
8. "Did Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction?"
Your guess is as good as mine. I think he had them, because of Secretary Powell's infamous briefing to the UN before the war and because I don't think we would have launched this war without some pretty good proof. Phil's opinion is that we ought to invite UNSCOM back into Iraq to resume its inspections ASAP. Without the Iraqi government playing shell game, they ought to be able to find them. Then again, maybe we should use American soldiers for the inspection mission. That way, we would control the inspection process, but we would also be accountable for its results.