Broken Government

Published — December 10, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Military failure to secure Iraq after invasion

Plans and troop numbers to secure post-Saddam Iraq were inadequate


Calling them “wildly off mark,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz dismissed the assessments of his own Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, and a 1999 Department of Defense (DOD) war game scenario, both of which predicted the need for hundreds of thousands of troops to secure post-invasion Iraq — far more than the 148,000 who were eventually assigned the job. According to an official U.S. Army history of the conflict in Iraq, “The military means employed were sufficient to destroy the Saddam regime; they were not sufficient to replace it with the type of nation-state the United States wished to see in its place.” A 2005 unclassified study for the Army by the RAND Corporation, which was suppressed until media reports and congressional pressure brought it to light, said that the chaotic security situation after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled were “conditions [that] enabled the insurgency to take root, and the Army and Marine Corps have been battling the insurgents ever since.” Though there were some strategies for securing post-invasion Iraq, “few if any made it into the serious planning process,” according to the RAND report. These ideas were “held at bay, in the most general sense, by two mutually reinforcing sets of assumptions that dominated planning . . . at the highest levels” — that few armed forces would be necessary after the invasion and that the military would not be an occupying force. Just days before the war began, Vice President Cheney said, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate in 2006 that there were “clearly insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial invasion to establish control over the country.” In early 2007, President Bush increased troop levels in Iraq, bolstering the estimated 132,000 there at that time with about 30,000 more — an effort that came to be known as the “surge.” Along with a new counterinsurgency strategy, the enlistment of Sunni tribes to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq, and relative peace with Shiite militant Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army, the surge has been credited with greatly stemming violence in Iraq. Today, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq has decreased to near pre-surge levels.

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