Monday, December 27, 2004

"There was no Phase IV plan"
Tom Ricks, the Washington Post's military correspondent, has dug up an important history report to corrborate what we already know about the lack of planning for post-war Iraq. U.S. Army Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian for the major combat phase of the war, and then chief planner for the 101st Airborne Division from July 2003 to March 2004, says quite bluntly that the U.S. failed to plan for post-war Iraq, and thus planned to fail.
... While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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, U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. military remains "perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it."
This is not news, but is damning evidence to support what we think we know — that the Pentagon committed a gross error of tremendous proportions in planning for post-war Iraq. At every point in the planning process, the senior leaders of the Pentagon embraced the "best case" scenarios offered by intelligence officials and military planners. Senior Pentagon officials used those "best case" projections to justify force package adjustments, resourcing decisions, and strategic decisions which continue to impede progress in Iraq today.

Mr. Ricks is right to emphasize the importance of this report as evidence. Maj. Wilson was, quite literally, present at the creation of the plan. I've been a division planner, and I've seen how much information comes into a division plans cell. If anyone had a big-picture view of the planning process and the way it impacted execution, it would be a division planner. Moreover, the Army puts its smartest officers in these jobs. The key members of a division plans team are usually SAMS graduates ("Jedi knights") who are the best and brightest officers in their year group. When one of these guys speaks, you listen, because he probably knows what he's talking about.

So at this point, we've heard recriminations from a lot of people about the post-war planning failures. Paul Bremer has criticized troop allocations, saying "We never had enough troops on the ground." Tommy Franks strongly implies in his book that post-war planning was not a priority. Official after-action reports from 3ID and 101ID speak of the absence of a post-war plan. And now you have it from one of the key planners in the middle of the operation. And yet, there appears to be no political accountability for these failures in either the Pentagon or the White House. President Bush has said previously that he embraces the model of political command described in "Supreme Command : Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime" by Eliot Cohen — that he strives to emulate great wartime leaders like Lincoln and FDR. If that's true, then maybe he needs to cruise across the Potomac and fire a few people in the war department, just as Lincoln and FDR did.

Update I: A friend of mine e-mailed to let me know that MAJ Wilson's study was available online via the Peace Studies Program at Cornell University. I plan to read the whole thing this weekend.

More abuse allegations emerge from Gitmo
Carol Leonnig reported in the Washington Post over the weekend that at least 10 current and former detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay have lodged complaints about their treatment. Such complaints go further than what one might expect of prisoners, and strike a nerve because of prior allegations of abuse at Gitmo and other U.S. military prisons (i.e. Abu Ghraib).

In public statements after their release and in documents filed with federal courts, the detainees have said they were beaten before and during interrogations, "short-shackled" to the floor and otherwise mistreated as part of the effort to get them to confess to being members of al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Even some of the detainees' attorneys acknowledged that they were initially skeptical, mainly because there has been little evidence that captors at Guantanamo Bay engaged in the kind of abuse discovered at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. But last Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union released FBI memos, which it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, in which agents described witnessing or learning of serious mistreatment of detainees.

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water," an unidentified agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004, for example. "Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more."

Brent Mickum, a Washington attorney for one of the detainees, said that "now there's no question these guys have been tortured. When we first got involved in this case, I wondered whether this could all be true. But every allegation that I've heard has now come to pass and been confirmed by the government's own papers."

A Pentagon spokesman has said the military has an ongoing investigation of torture claims and takes credible allegations seriously. Pentagon officials and lawyers say the military has been careful not to abuse detainees and has complied with treaties on the handling of enemy prisoners "to the extent possible" in the middle of a war.

The detainees who made public claims of torture at Guantanamo Bay describe a prison camp in which abuse is employed as a coordinated tool to aid interrogators and as punishment for minor offenses that irked prison guards. They say military personnel beat and kicked them while they had hoods on their heads and tight shackles on their legs, left them in freezing temperatures and stifling heat, subjected them to repeated, prolonged rectal exams and paraded them naked around the prison as military police snapped pictures.

In some allegations, the detainees say they have been threatened with sexual abuse. British detainee Martin Mubanga, one of Mickum's clients, wrote his sister that the American military police were treating him like a "rent boy," British slang for a male prostitute.

A group of released British detainees said that several young prisoners told them they were raped and sexually violated after guards took them to isolated sections of the prison. They said an Algerian man was "forced to watch a video supposedly showing two detainees dressed in orange, one sodomizing the other, and was told that it would happen to him if he didn't cooperate."

Another detainee, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan, an alleged paymaster for al Qaeda, has claimed in court documents that Guantanamo Bay interrogators wrapped prisoners in an Israeli flag. In an Aug. 16 e-mail, an FBI agent reported observing a detainee sitting in an interview room "with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing."

Many of the claims were filed in federal courts as a result of a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that gave the Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment in court. More than 60 of the 550 men who are detained have filed claims. Some have been held at the U.S. Navy base for nearly three years.
As these cases go forward in federal court, you're going to see a lot more of this stuff come to light. The reason is simple. These detainees are going to challenge every piece of government information pulled from them and their captive comrades, and they're going to do it on the basis of how the information was gleaned. To the extent possible, the detainees' lawyers will argue that the information was procured through torture, via means that "shock the conscience". And, consequently, the information should be inadmissible both as a matter of reliability and as a matter of principle.

This is, quite literally, the intersection of Constitutional law, evidentiary law, and the national security law field which deals with interrogations. When these three parts of the law joust in federal court, it's almost certain that U.S. law will prevail, and that such information will be excluded. Assuming the judge lets this battle play out in open court (which the government will fight, in order to protect its intelligence sources and methods), then this clash will also produce a great deal more information about what has actually happened at Gitmo since we opened that facility for business in late 2001.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

On leave
I will be out of town until Sunday in the local mountains, away from the news and the Internet. In my absence, please check out my online colleagues at Irregular Analyses -- a new collaborative venture being written by three of the smartest guys in the defense policy world.

Happy holidays -- wherever you're at.
Local security
The news of the attack on Forward Operating Base Marez, which left 22 Americans dead and more than 50 severely wounded, shocked me earlier this week. It pains me to think of all those casualty notifications going out at this time of year, when families were settling down to celebrate the holidays and pray for their loved ones' return. We should all mourn these soldiers' deaths, but as Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said in Mosul, we should also persevere.

Now, however, it may be time to pose some hard questions about security in Iraq -- and the fundamental nature of our mission there. Mark Mazzetti and Edmund Sanders have a good report in today's Los Angeles Times which raises these questions, among others, and explains why it's so difficult to establish security for a large FOB in Iraq.
BAGHDAD — To protect U.S. troops where they eat and sleep, commanders have put up a cordon of concrete barriers, concertina wire and staggered guard posts at U.S. military bases throughout Iraq.

Yet Tuesday's brazen attack at Forward Operating Base Marez near Mosul proved that these measures were insufficient to prevent Iraqi insurgents from striking U.S. troops at a place and time of their choosing.

U.S. military officials will be taking a hard look not only at base security but also at the vetting procedures that allow thousands of Iraqis — soldiers and civilians — onto U.S. facilities.

* * *
The Marines are using retina scanners and fingerprinting machines to compile a database of Iraqis permitted onto Marine bases throughout central Iraq.

The Marines also do not allow any trucks other than their own to enter their bases, forcing haulers to unload outside the perimeter. The Marines then put the cargo on their own vehicles and carry it onto the base.

* * *
At Forward Operating Base Marez, where 22 people died in Tuesday's attack, all civilians — including those employed on the base — must pass through at least four checkpoints and searches, the first two controlled by Iraqi security forces and the last two by U.S. soldiers, Iraqi workers said.

"To tell you the truth, it is an exasperating process," said one Iraqi employee, who, like others interviewed, did not want to be identified. "I have worked there as an interpreter for the past year, and they have never been easy on me."

The attack is likely to make entry procedures even more restrictive, and commanders are scrambling to determine ways to increase base security.

After investigators in Mosul determined that the attack probably was the work of a suicide bomber, military officers in Tikrit, where the Army's 1st Infantry Division is based, banned all backpacks from the division's mess halls.

"Whenever we have an incident like this, we want to review our own procedures," said Lt. Col. William Russell, the 1st Infantry Division's force protection officer.
This is good, but there are more questions to be raised -- deeper questions which go to the heart of the U.S. mission posture in Iraq. Why was FOB Marez so vulnerable? Why do we have such FOBs in the middle of a city? Would it be more wise, given the nature of the maturing environment and the insurgency, to relocate our FOBs to secure locations outside of the cities? That might cede ground to the insurgents, but it could also lend more credence to sovereignty and force the Iraqi security forces to step up. These are the larger policy questions that the Pentagon must ask.

The insurgents will view this as a success, and they will try to reinforce this success with more similar attacks on U.S. troop concentrations on other U.S. bases. In the short term, you can adopt more force protection measures. As a former anti-terrorism/force protection officer, I know how these work, and they can be quite effective. But they're also a tremendous drain on manpower and resources, and they can only be sustained for so long before your entire mission transmutates into one of force protection. The best defense is a good offense -- and a good force posture which does not make you vulnerable to the insurgents simply by virtue of where you eat and sleep. This week's attack should give us a reason to reevaluate both our force posture, and our offensive strategy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

More evidence of "coercive" interrogation comes to light
The big papers (N.Y. Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, AP) report this morning on some additional documents procured by the ACLU via the Freedom of Information Act and pending litigation which illuminate the practices used by the Defense Department, CIA and FBI to interrogate prisoners at Gitmo and in Iraq. I wish I could say I was shocked or surprised by this... but I can't, because this is merely the latest in a series of such stories. I'm one of guys who's been following this issue since its genesis in April 2004 — and even I'm numb to it by now.

I have nothing to add now, because I think I've said just about everything I can say on this subject, both on Intel Dump and in essays for Slate and the Washington Monthly. My only question is this: when will the news of these practices stop? At what point will we know that we know all there is to know about the U.S. government's interrogation practices over the past three years? I recognize there is some need to maintain secrecy here about our intelligence collection methods. But the damage done by this constant flow of leaks makes me think that maybe we'd be best served, in the long run, by simply coming clean about what we're doing.

Update I: Don't miss Publius' essay at Legal Fiction on why conservatives of all sorts should be outraged over this story. I think he makes some extremely good arguments, some of which capture my moral outrage on this subject as a classic liberal committed to the rule of law, and one who initially supported the war in Iraq. Here's his introduction:
Perhaps part of the problem is that conservatives are seeing this scandal through the "tinted lens" of partisanship. That's why I want to try to make them understand that the scandal is more than a left vs. right dispute. In fact, it violates their own most valued principles - and threatens their most strongly desired goals. In short, I want to make the conservative case for outrage.
Read the whole essay at Legal Fiction.