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Some Inconvenient Truths, Conveniently Locked in a Safe

Joseph L. Galloway

One of the great strengths of the American Army that was reborn in the wake of the disastrous Vietnam War has been a rigorous After-Action Review and Lessons Learned process that's conducted after field training exercises and battlefield combat.

Not even two- and three-star generals are exempt from standing up and acknowledging their failures in the Army's Battle Command Training Program (BCTP), where brigade, division and corps command groups test their skills at planning and conducting major operations in computer war games. A wily opposition force (OpFor) staff does its best to make life miserable for those being tested, much as a real enemy would on the battlefield.

If a general overlooks one or two of his mistakes, an OpFor colonel follows him to the stage and points them out for him.

This program, which began in the late 1980's, has expanded to help prepare Army National Guard commanders and their staffs for what awaits them in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Foreign military observers have been astounded by a process that requires someone wearing stars on his shoulders to criticize himself in front of an audience of lower-ranking officers and sergeants.

So it should come as no surprise that not long after Baghdad fell early in 2003, the Army's top commanders commissioned an After-Action Review of the planning and conduct of the invasion of Iraq and the post-war occupation and reconstruction effort. The Army hired the RAND Corp., a California-based research organization that's done this kind of work for the U.S. military and government for decades.

The study was envisioned as a seven-volume examination of the Army's role in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

What is a surprise is that nearly three years later, RAND's warts-and-all report on post-war reconstruction, which was completed after 18 months and presented to the Army in the summer of 2005, is still locked in Pentagon vaults.

RAND normally prepares a classified version of such reports for internal use by the Army's commanders and a public version that covers the high points of what was found and what was recommended for the media and academic researchers.

Both versions of the volume of the report titled "Rebuilding Iraq" are locked in the same vault, where they can do no good in educating officers or the American public to the realities that led to a near-catastrophic failure by both the military and civilians to plan for what would happen after we'd toppled Saddam Hussein's government and assumed control of a fractured, feuding nation of 25 million people.

The trouble, it seems, was that RAND's team of more than 50 civilian and military researchers followed the trail of the failure from the Army's part of the Pentagon to former Defense Secretary Donald L. Rumsfeld's offices and on to the White House and State Department and elsewhere in the Bush administration.

The New York Times got its hands on a draft copy of the report and says that the RAND Corp. researchers found problems with virtually every organization involved in planning the war _ not exactly a surprise to anyone who's read the newspaper articles and books published on a war that's about to enter its sixth year with no end in sight.

The study blamed President Bush and, by implication, his national security adviser at the time, Condoleezza Rice, for failing to resolve differences between rival agencies, i.e. Rumsfeld's Pentagon and Colin Powell's State Department.

Rumsfeld demanded and got sole authority for the Defense Department to oversee post-war operations in Iraq, despite what the report called the military's "lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution."

Powell's State Department produced a huge study on post-war governance and reconstruction that Rumsfeld's people ignored even though they did no planning of their own. RAND found that State's effort was of "uneven quality" and wasn't "an actionable plan."

RAND said that now-retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who as head of the Central Command was in charge of U.S. military operations in Iraq, had a "fundamental misunderstanding" of what was necessary to secure Iraq after Baghdad fell and assumed that U.S. civilian administrators would handle reconstruction.

At the heart of the costly failure to plan for a lengthy occupation of Iraq was an assumption by Rumsfeld and the White House that we could begin withdrawing American troops by the early summer of 2003 and so there'd be no need to plan for securing the country or rebuilding an infrastructure that was ancient and crude before the war and much worse afterward.

RAND's report with its unpleasant truths landed on top Army commander's desks at a time when President Bush and his merry band were trying to ward off a rising tide of criticism of their conduct of the war and creating yet another fairy tale, which debuted in the fall of 2005 as the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

The Army brass had no intention of dropping that volume on the desk of their volatile boss Rumsfeld, and simply locked it away in hopes that it would be forgotten.

The official explanation for why the study was hidden? "Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities," an Army spokesman told The Times.

What it really was when you think about it was an inconvenient and dangerous truth, much like the one a preceding Army Chief, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki told a Senate committee on the eve of the war. No one listened to him, either.

Joseph L. Galloway, a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers, is the co-author, with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, of "We Were Soldiers Once … and Young," a story of the first large-scale ground battle of the Vietnam War.

© 2008 McClatchy Newspapers

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