Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine M. Grossman
March 31, 2005
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Measuring Casey’s progress:
UNTIL LAST MONTH, IRAQ CAMPAIGN PLAN LACKED SPECIFIC BENCHMARKS
Prior to a February revision of the U.S. military’s “campaign plan” for Iraq, the secret blueprint lacked detailed mileposts for achieving security in the war-torn nation, according to critics and supporters alike.
The top U.S. officer in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey, lately has been garnering plaudits behind the scenes from his military and civilian colleagues for adding measurable benchmarks to his campaign plan, a classified document in which a commander typically delineates security objectives and how subordinate units will attain them. But some officials say the nearly two-year delay in laying out clear and realistic security goals in a single military plan has taken a toll on the Iraqi stability and reconstruction effort.
Casey issued his first campaign plan in August 2004, just one month after becoming commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, or “MNF-I,” according to Air Force Col. Robert Potter, the general’s spokesman in Baghdad.
Officials privy to the document say it contained an array of lofty objectives, like bringing stability to the nation and transitioning security responsibilities to newly trained Iraqi forces. But it offered unit commanders virtually no guidance on how to implement the goals and laid out no time lines, officials say.
“You had a classified campaign plan,” said one retired officer who has worked in Iraq. “It was dense. It was strategically broad. It almost didn’t mean a thing.”
“It was totally nondescript. It had no concrete objectives,” said another recently returned military officer.
“We are just throwing gobs and gobs and gobs of resources” at the effort in Iraq, this officer said. “That absolves us of having to make a plan.”
Like several others interviewed for this article who have read Casey’s campaign plan, these sources spoke on condition of not being named.
Casey described progress toward reaching his overarching vision at a Dec. 16 Pentagon press conference.
“My view of winning is that we are broadly on track to accomplishing our objectives, which is a constitutionally elected government that is representative of all the Iraqi people and with Iraqi security forces that are capable of maintaining domestic order and denying Iraq as a safe haven for terror,” he said. “And I believe we are on track to get there by December of ’05.”
Yet, to achieve strategic objectives, subordinate commanders need a detailed game plan — coordinated across all units in Iraq — that focuses efforts in a sound counterinsurgency campaign, said one Army officer familiar with the August document.
A “good plan,” agreed another officer, must lay out specific courses of action and milestones: “What do you want to reach and when?”
U.S. military standards for writing and implementing campaign plans are set forth in a 121-page Pentagon document, “Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning,” issued in January 2002.
The revelation that mileposts have only recently been added to the campaign plan — a document that remains unlikely to be released — sheds new light on Casey’s public comments, some officials say.
“We developed a campaign plan in the July time period — [then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] John Negroponte and myself, with both the embassy staff and my staff — and we’ve been working toward that ever since,” Casey said at the Dec. 16 press conference. “I can tell you that I feel we’re broadly on track in helping the Iraqi people complete their transition to a constitutionally elected government at the end of next year. We also believe that this objective is both realistic and achievable.”
He added: “There is progress across Iraq every day, and every day we and our Iraqi partners are a step closer to accomplishing our objectives.”
Critics say that without well-defined mileposts on the road to achieving U.S. strategic objectives, U.S. commanders had enormous latitude in defining progress along the way.
The August campaign plan “had generic [objectives like], ‘Promote peace and stability in Iraq,’” one officer told Inside the Pentagon this month. “It was not measurable. It was not something you could say we achieved.”
That Casey’s command has since added more detailed goals into the February version of the plan implies the general ultimately recognized the earlier document was deficient, some officers opine.
Others see it differently.
Milestones were “not missing” before the revised plan was issued early this year; “it was just not written down,” says Michael Janke, a former Navy SEAL who has read each of the Iraq campaign plans.
Janke — the CEO of a company that provides consulting and security services to the U.S. military in Iraq — says Casey oversaw progress toward benchmarks internally at his headquarters, as he assigned different missions and tasks to subordinate units.
But Janke conceded the broad approach set the stage for “overlap, redundancy, miscommunication and mismanagement.” The earlier plan also took a “pie-in-the-sky view” of how quickly new Iraqi security forces could be trained, he said.
Despite the challenges, there are signs — especially following the January election — that Iraqis are taking greater responsibility for securing and rebuilding the nation, several observers say.
“There are problems there, but there’s progress,” says Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Col. Raymond Liddy. “I see improvement from that sort of mindset we saw” just after major combat operations concluded in 2003, when Iraqis — exhausted from Saddam Hussein’s abusive regime — exhibited a “beaten dog syndrome,” he said. Liddy, interviewed March 29, was a staff officer in an infantry battalion during the march to Baghdad before leaving active duty later that year.
At the Dec. 16 briefing, Casey said he had just completed his “first major assessment” of progress in Iraq “here at the five-month point.”
What the general did not reveal publicly is that his staff was in the process of largely scrapping the August campaign plan. Revisions were aimed at better reflecting the requirements of a counterinsurgency effort and lending military missions more coherence, sources said.
Last fall, Army Col. Bill Hix, chief of Casey’s strategy division, called in nine scholars from U.S. military educational institutions to help draft changes to the campaign plan, according to defense officials. The officers and civilians from across the services included experts in counterinsurgency operations, economics, politics and elections. They arrived in Iraq in November and advised Hix on how to scrub the plan, officials said. With some of the Ph.D.s uncertain about their exact return dates, the team gave itself a droll nickname: “Doctors Without Orders.”
The group’s first inclination was to scrap the format in which the campaign plan conceptualized military operations in Iraq, according to defense officials. Casey’s earlier plan depicted multinational security operations in Iraq along a military concept for “lines of operation,” in which activities are segmented into discrete baskets like civil affairs, counterinsurgency operations, logistics, economic reconstruction and the like, according to defense officials.
“None of these things are connected,” one source recalls an officer at Casey’s headquarters acknowledging. “They didn’t understand the enemy and didn’t frame it the right way” in Casey’s first plan, said this former officer. “It was many things but it was not a counterinsurgency plan.”
The new edition “adds milestones and what we call cradle-to-grave processes,” Janke said. It offers “the big picture view” and tells unit commanders, “Now we’re going to give you direction,” he said.
“What you’re seeing [is a course] correction, based on ground truth,” Janke said.
Yet many in Casey’s headquarters were resistant to embracing the new tack, defense officials tell ITP. Hix’s boss — Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen Sargeant, Casey’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, plans and assessment — was advocating a major change that would make Iraq operations more unified around the counterinsurgency effort. The Army-dominated bureaucracy at Casey’s headquarters was pushing back, this official said.
“It was a big shift for people to say, ‘OK, now we’re in an insurgency,’” said an Army officer interviewed last month.
Heading into the first weeks of February, there still was “not a consensus inside MNF-I headquarters about the idea of what priorities MNF-I should pursue,” a former military officer said.
Hix “was working hard to influence things in the right way, and [ultimately] he succeeded,” said one official this month. “It’s dawning on [senior leaders] what they’re dealing with now” is a full-blown counterinsurgency campaign to which all other objectives in Iraq must be linked, the official said.
The military blueprint that Casey’s August plan replaced — a January 2004 document issued by Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the top general in Iraq — offered even less insight on how the U.S.-led counterinsurgency effort was to succeed, defense officials say.
“They were lost, just completely adrift,” said one retired officer.
By spring of last year, “the Sanchez campaign plan was thrown out” and officers in Iraq were being told “there was none,” recalls one officer who recently returned from the region.
Over the ensuing 12 months, as casualties have mounted, the focus in Iraq has largely shifted from broad security and reconstruction tasks to fighting a war against the insurgency, according to officials in the region. Casey’s challenge now is to apply the resources — both funds and troops — in the right places to fulfill U.S. military objectives, defense sources say.
“The key thing is we have to gain and retain the initiative over the insurgents. The way to do that is through offensive operations and effective security operations that don’t focus on just being reactive, in terms of protection of specific fixed sites and routes,” one Army officer told ITP last month. “You progressively weaken them internal to Iraq — by going after the [arms and ammunition] caches, going after the leadership, going after the financial assets that they have already in-country.”
At the same time, fighters and arms continue to pour into Iraq from neighboring countries, particularly Syria, Liddy says.
“If you don’t disrupt [the insurgency’s] ability to tap into external sources of support, you’re not going to really gain much,” said the Army officer interviewed in February.
“What is lacking now, interestingly, [is that] it is identified as a requirement [in the campaign plan] that we need to disrupt the enemy’s ability to tap into sources of external support,” the officer said. “But we just haven’t put resources against it [on Iraq’s borders]. We haven’t put units against it. It’s just striking.”
Though Casey’s February blueprint is said to offer more specific guidance on how the counterinsurgency campaign must be fought, the headquarters is continuing to modify it, according to Potter, the general’s Baghdad spokesman. He refers to the February revision as Casey’s “operational plan,” or ‘op plan,’ for short.
“Be aware that op plans don’t just end and another replaces it,” he told ITP March 18. “Op plans are ‘living’ documents and they often evolve into subsequent op plans. . . . No situation or environment is static and plans need to recognize the fluid nature of any given situation.”
Some in the defense community are calling on the Pentagon to declassify the Iraq campaign plan.
So long as the plan remains classified, “nobody can hold us to a standard because we didn’t write it down and share it,” said a former officer, adding it is critical for the Iraqi public to understand how U.S. forces will work with them to eliminate the insurgent threat. “We need to take a stand and hold a position.”
Congress may play a role in that effort. Earlier this month, the House approved an amendment to an $81.3 billion war spending bill that would require Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to submit to lawmakers a “strategy of success” for Iraq, including goals and a time table for meeting them.
—Elaine M. Grossman