[ The article below reports on a study “by the Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group at Fort Leavenworth” the conclusions of which are “at odds with the public perception of a technologically superior invasion force that easily drove Hussein from power. In fact, as the authors point out in their battle-by-battle narrative, there were many precarious moments when U.S. units were critically short of fuel and ammunition, with little understanding of the forces arrayed against them.” –BL ]
3 July 2004 | San Francisco Chronicle [page A – 1]
by David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times
Fort Leavenworth, Kan. — American soldiers who defeated the Iraqi regime 15 months ago received virtually none of the critical spare parts they needed to keep their tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles running. They ran chronically short of food, water and ammunition. Their radios often failed them. Their medics had to forage for medical supplies; artillery gunners had to cannibalize parts from captured Iraqi guns, and intelligence units provided little useful information about the enemy.
These revelations come not from embedded reporters or congressional committees but from the Army itself. In the first internal assessment of the war in Iraq, an exhaustive Army study has concluded that U.S. forces prevailed despite supply and logistical failures, poor intelligence, communication breakdowns and futile attempts at psychological warfare.
The 542-page study, declassified last month, praises commanders and soldiers for displaying resourcefulness and resiliency under trying conditions, and for taking advantage of superior firepower, training and technology. But it also describes a broken supply system that left crucial spare parts and lubricants on warehouse shelves in Kuwait while tank personnel outside Baghdad ripped parts from broken-down tanks and raided Iraqi supplies of oil and lubricants.
“No one had anything good to say about parts delivery, from the privates at the front to the generals (at the U.S. command center in Kuwait),” the study’s authors concluded after conducting 2,300 interviews and studying 119, 000 documents.
Among other highlights, the report revealed that the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad before cheering Iraqis was the brainchild of a U.S. Army colonel, with help from psychological operations, or psyops, units. The report also credited another U.S. Army colonel with shortening the war by “weeks, if not months” with his dramatic “thunder run” into Baghdad.
Within the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), which spearheaded the U.S. assault on Baghdad, “literally every maneuver battalion commander asserted that he could not have continued offensive operations for another two weeks without some spare parts,” the study said.
The study, titled “On Point” and aimed at “lessons learned,” is at odds with the public perception of a technologically superior invasion force that easily drove Hussein from power. In fact, as the authors point out in their battle-by-battle narrative, there were many precarious moments when U.S. units were critically short of fuel and ammunition, with little understanding of the forces arrayed against them.
The study, by the Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group at Fort Leavenworth, called ammunition re-supply problematic and said the medical supply system “failed to work.” Engineers desperate for explosives foraged for abandoned Iraqi explosives and tore apart mine-clearing charges to use the explosives to blow up captured Iraqi equipment.
Many soldiers plunged into combat not knowing whether they had enough food or water to sustain themselves in punishing heat and blinding sandstorms. “Stocks of food barely met demand,” the study said. “There were times when the supply system was incapable of providing sufficient MREs (meals ready to eat) for the soldiers fighting Iraqi forces.”
Military intelligence provided little useful information about the deployment or intentions of Iraqi forces, the study concluded.
Most significantly, military planners did not anticipate the effectiveness or ferocity of paramilitary forces that disrupted supply columns and mounted suicide charges against 70-ton Abrams tanks. Some of those same forces, using tactics refined during the invasion, are part of the current insurgency.
The study, which covers events in Kuwait and Iraq until President Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1, 2003, does not address the insurgency, which has killed far more Americans than were killed during the so- called “combat phase.”
But the report does say that the military’s “running start” — the strategy of launching the invasion before all support units had arrived — made it difficult for commanders to adjust quickly from major combat to postwar challenges. Because combat units outraced supply and support units, combat commanders were caught unprepared when Hussein’s regime collapsed after three weeks.
“Local commanders were torn between their fights and providing resources — soldiers, time and logistics — to meet the civilian needs,” the report said. “Partially due to the scarce resources as a result of the running start, there simply was not enough to do both missions.”
The principal authors, retired Col. Gregory Fontenot, Lt. Col. E.J. Degen and Lt. Col. David Tohn, warned that Iraqi forces could have created significant problems if they had attacked relatively undefended U.S. units staging in Kuwait in the winter of 2002-03. Those units arrived without significant firepower or reinforcements and were vulnerable to a surprise attack.