2003 March 30 Sunday
Did War Planners Ignore Intelligence About Iraqi Capabilities?

There is a fierce debate going on about whether the US sent too few troops to the Gulf and also why too few troops were sent. The blame game is getting fierce.

"It warned that paramilitaries could threaten and exploit the civilian population as shields. It predicted that irregular and unorthodox tactics could be used by Saddam's fedayeen. It said they might fight wearing civilian clothes. It was ignored."

Intelligence officials have also complained that warnings of possible resistance were frequently "sanitised" by hawks, including the agency's own director, George Tenet, before reaching the White House and President Bush. "The caveats would be dropped and the edges filed off," said one.

This brings to mind the War of Numbers book by former CIA analyst Sam Adams about how the numbers for the Order of Battle estimates for the Viet Cong were cooked to make the size of the enemy look smaller than it really was. One of the founders of the Steerforth Press publishing house that published Adams' book is Thomas Powers. Powers gave an interview to The Atlantic in 1997 about Sam Adams and the politicization of intelligence.

The answer to all of those questions is essentially the same: There is no real way to take politics out of intelligence. It's a problem. The more interested the White House is in a question, the narrower the range of freedom that any analytical or intelligence agency has in trying to explain what's going on. When the White House really has its mind made up, you can't talk them out of it. If you try too hard they stop listening to you and start listening to somebody else. So the politics of intelligence is just a fact of life.

If the CIA didn't let its more pessimistic analysts submit more accurate assessments of the dangers facing US and allied forces in Iraq is that because Bush didn't want to hear more accurate assessments? Or did the top people in the CIA simply lack confidence in their own analysts? Or are what we hearing out of the CIA now a matter of blame shifting? Heck, if what is being claimed is true the blame is being shifted as much onto the top CIA leadership as it is on the White House or the civilian leadership at the Pentagon.

The biggest question in my mind is what was the chief error. Here are some possibilities:

  • an excessive confidence in the technological edge of the US military.
  • a failure to appreciate the threat posed by Iraqi irregular forces.
  • a failure to appreciate the ability and motivation of the Baathists to maintain fear of the regime in the minds of the Iraqi populace.
  • a failure to understand that most Iraqi people, even if they favored the removal of Saddam from power, were going to be unwilling to put themselves at greater risk to help the coalition forces (for any number of possible reasons: general mistrust of America, uncertainty about American determination, or simply a desire to let someone else do the job after having suffered enough already).

The US Air Force is of course a great believer in the efficacy of air power. At the same time, Rumsfeld and other top civilian officials in the Defense Department are great believers in the ability of technology to be a great force multiplier. Therefore there were certainly factions that wanted to believe that more could be done with less for reasons that had nothing to do with the debate over whether the Iraq war should be fought in the first place. However, the intensity of the larger debate about what should be the US strategy for dealing with the Islamic countries elicits a great deal of intensely partisan polemics where the factions accuse each other of all sorts of things - including claims that some members of an opposing faction have been hiding intentions that they have never really concealed.

If, as seems to be the case, the top Pentagon war planners underestimated the difficulty of defeating Saddam's regime why is that? Is Donald Rumsfeld to blame? Or are neoconservative hawk advisors to Rumsfeld the reason for the underestimate? Or did General Tommy Franks really believe that he could get away with such a small force? If he did, is that because he wasn't given accurate intelligence about enemy capabilties? (of course if Saddam's regime collapses in a week there will be a competition for who should get credit for the US war plan)

Rumsfeld says he didn't turn down a request for a larger force.

Rumsfeld denied published reports that he had rejected requests from U.S. war planners for additional troops.

Tommy Franks said he was satisfied with the number of troops he had available.

The commander of the U.S. war in Iraq denied Sunday that he had asked the Pentagon for more troops before invading the country but sidestepped a question about whether the war might last into the summer.

Where is the truth in all this? We probably aren't going to understand in detail how the decisions were made until the memoirs get written and documents get declassified many years from now. Tommy Franks may be telling the truth. Or perhaps he knew he'd be turned down if he asked for more troops. Or perhaps he's taking the public position he's currently taking because he needs to maintain his working relationship with Rumsfeld. Or perhaps he thinks the war really is going well.

Update: What would worry me the most is if it turns out to be true that there are CIA analysts who predicted the problems that the Saddam regime loyalists would cause and if those analyses were not even made available to the war planners.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 March 30 01:59 PM  Military War, Rumours Of War

Lynn S said at March 30, 2003 5:02 PM:

My opinion: Reporters just like for people to believe that they are the first to discover "the facts" so when they finally find out something that the military has known about and planned for for months the media act like "Nobody knew this; we discovered it first." Bullsh**!

AMac said at March 31, 2003 8:02 AM:

None of us on the 'outside' really know what's going on. That said, you are talking about one of the key questions, summed up by the aphorism "hope is not a plan."

In retrospect, it seems reasonable for CENTCOM to have hoped that Iraqi resistance would have crumbled by now, especially in the Shiite south. It would have been wishful thinking to have assumed that this would be the Ba'athist response to rapid ground advance and aerial "shock and awe."

The question, not yet answered, is whether Coalition contingency plans took these (relative) setbacks into account, and whether they are working.

From what I read (Internet, Baltimore Sun), hear on the radio (NPR), and watch on TV (very little), the strategic questions are ignored by the American media, in favor of the "entertainment" aspects of the war, as seen through the ideological lens of the media business. For example, all but one story on Iraq on the Sunday Sun's front page had the same slant. The unstated assumption seemed to be that the failure of Coalition forces cf. rosy predictions is the same as a failure in absolute military and political terms. The entertainment mentality seems to demand the Baghdad equivalent of Leclerc's 1944 procession down the Champs-Elysee. What's become clear in the past week is that any World War 2 analogy is going to be to the Allied conquest of Nazi Germany, not to the liberation of France.

Let's hope that the US and UK military and political leadership have a wider perspective than those currently on display by most reporters, producers, and editors.

Todd W. said at March 31, 2003 1:48 PM:

It's somewhat unfair to criticize "the war plan" for providing too few troops, when the plan involved the 4th Infantry coming down from Turkey. The decision by the Turkish parliament to deny access, rather than any defect in original planning, is the proximate cause of the current difficulty. It seems to me that if we had a heavy division in the north the Fedayeen would have to disperse across the country rather than being able to concentrate in the south and harass supply routes.

That being said, I think the administration can be faulted for it slow reaction to Turkey's decision. As soon as it became clear the vote wouldn't go our way they should have redirected the division immediately. Instead, when the war began, the 4th's equipment was left floating in the Mediterranean and the personnel was in Texas. When the division finally arrives in theater and reinforces our troops in the south I think a lot of the McCaffery type criticism will subside.

Randall Parker said at March 31, 2003 2:04 PM:

A war plan that counted on the Turks was a flawed war plan. They shouldn't depend on any part of a plan if that part can't be guaranteed.

Now, maybe they really didn't count on the Turks. Maybe they figured they could win easily anyway. Still, it seems to me that they should have had another division well on its way to the Persian Gulf in case that happened.

That said, I think the war started when it did because it made sense to capture as much of Iraq as possible while the day time temperatures were still pretty low.

OCBill said at April 1, 2003 3:02 PM:

I think it's funny that anyone says the plan isn't working. Only a very few people know what "the plan" is. If part of the plan was to take the non-"elite" regular Iraqi army out of the picture, then the plan is working. Also, if the plan was meant to prevent the torching of the oil fields in the south, it seems to be working. Ditto for the oil fields in the north. Ditto again for preventing (so far) the gassing of the Kurds. More dittos for the prevention (so far) of missiles being launched into Israel. Still more dittos, if the plan included securing every bridge intact across the Tigris and Euphrates. To a casual observer like myself, it looks like the plan is working pretty well. Perfection just doesn't happen that often in nature (Claudia Schiffer notwithstanding). Also, I think there are several more shoes yet to drop regarding the plan.

Bob Hawkins said at April 2, 2003 8:48 AM:

It appears to me that the force that crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border was the strongest force that could be *fully* supported, logistically, through Kuwait. Kuwait is a small country. It has 3 paved airfields. It has zero kilometers of railroad track. It has about a half dozen ports, none of which, as far as I know, you would call "major."

The first thing that jumps out at you about that force is "no armored division." I've read that 3ID left much of its artillery behind. That's a force with zero % body fat.

We could have sent a larger force, but could not have fully supplied it through Kuwait. That would have limited the speed and scope of operations. Which would you rather have, a larger force held back by lack of aupplies, or a smaller one with plenty? So far, it looks to me like the right choice was made.

Randall Parker said at April 2, 2003 10:34 AM:

Bob, They had a long time to ship supplies into Kuwait. They could have sent enough supplies to support 3 or 4 divisions. Also, they could have expanded port facilities. I have serious doubts about the idea that the ports were the limiting factor. After all, Kuwait has a population of 2 million people. So it has to have enough port facilities to keep them fed and with consumer and other goods.

Paul Hamlin said at April 15, 2003 12:33 AM:

It seems that the only mistake we make was underestimating
the ruthlesness the Saddam Regime to use
human shields, mosques, hospitals, schools,
suicide bombers,executions, public beheadings and hangings as tactical defences. Also,
we may not have known how many foreign mercenaries
(terrorists) Saddam had recruited that came in
from Jordan and Syria. And of course, Turkey screwed
us, but in the end they have lost 30 billion in aide
and their reputation. Of course since the main
Turkish reputation is for commiting genocide there
wasn't much to loose. It seems in retrospect, Gen.
Franks manipulated the press magnificently as to
our war strategy and the Iraqui's never knew what
hit them. According to what I have read of the few
insights coming now from Iraq, Saddam was definitely
delusional which was great for us. Probaly strung
out on heroine like his son's. Tis a pity so many
Iraqui's died for this madman who worshiped Hitler
and Stalin.

One of our General's said the we teach our troops
"how to think" and Saddam teaches his troops "what
to think", of course at the point of a gun to the
back of the head of the poor soldiers wife or child.

The looting of Bagdad was a great tactic by the CENTCOM, because it took the pent up energy of
the subjugated poor people and dissapated it along
with some distribution of wealth. In a few days it
made the Iraqui's beg the Americans to come into
the Northern cities to protect them from what happened
in Bagdad.

I think we did push our soldiers a little hard but
it only takes an 18 year old a couple of days of R&R
to recover from the exhaustion.

The only thing I regret is that the CIA and State
Dept. will probably cover up the worst atrocities
such as bribes and collusion from France, Germany,
Russia and China, and use the intelligence gathered
as blackmail. I just hope some good reporters can
get in there and buy some real juicy stuff to publish.

This has been the greatest military campaign in Iraq
or probably anywhere else since Alexander.

And as they say, the rest is History.

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