War Stories

A Pentagon With No Papers

The lost art of postwar planning.

We have a winner in the contest for daffiest explanation of why the Pentagon did no planning for possible postwar complications in Iraq. The entry comes from Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who, when asked about the subject in Nov. 5 hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, replied as follows:

We did not want to be planning for a postwar in Iraq before we were sure we were going to war in Iraq. We did not want to have planning for the postwar make the war inevitable.

Where to begin parsing the astonishments of this statement? First, there is the assumption, in the second sentence, that merely planning for a scenario makes it happen. Gen. Pace must have access to files containing contingency plans for war with dozens of countries around the world. The existence of such plans doesn’t compel their execution. More specifically, the Joint Chiefs and U.S. Central Command started composing a highly detailed war plan against Iraq well before war was certain.

Still, the general’s remark is useful in one regard. It tacitly confirms what is widely suspected—that the military did no postwar planning.

Another document makes the point still more dramatically and elaborately: the official after-action report by the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd ID, of course, was the mechanized division that swept through Iraq with impressive speed, fought off guerrilla marauders on the way, captured the Baghdad airport, and from there rolled into the capital.

The 200-plus-page report—an internal but unclassified document available on the globalsecurity.org Web site—is, for the most part, a meticulously detailed analysis of the division’s combat performance during Operation Iraqi Freedom: its strengths and shortcomings in harnessing firepower, maneuver, mobility, logistics, intelligence, coordination with other services, and so forth. However, the report also contains a critique of the division’s—and, by extension, the U.S. military establishment’s—handling of the postwar phase.

The Army, the report states, “did not have a dedicated plan to transition quickly from combat operations to SASO,” military lingo for “stability and support operations.” Commanders put a great premium on capturing the Baghdad airport but had no plan for how to occupy it or how to use its facilities to bring in personnel or materials that would assist in stability operations.

Planning for postwar stability—also known as civil-military operations or CMO—”is part and parcel of warfighting in the 21st century,” the report declares. However, it notes that, in preparing for this war, the Army’s commanders “did not focus on CMO training.”

None of this should come as a surprise. In the entire U.S. Army these days, there is just one active-duty unit devoted to civil-military operations—not even a division, but a battalion: the 96th Civil Affairs (Airborne) Battalion, stationed in Ft. Bragg, N.C. (The number of actual troops in this unit is hard to pin down, but generally, there are three battalions in a brigade and three brigades in a division.) The Army also has two civil-affairs battalions in the Reserves.

At the House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gen. Pace did say the Army has a great need “for more civil-affairs personnel on active duty.” However, it is clear, both from the size of these units and from the fact that the vast majority of its personnel are in the Reserves, that no smart, ambitious Army officer would look at civil affairs as an attractive career path. Until the Army’s leaders alter that set of equations, postwar planning will remain a neglected art.