U.S. invasion of Iraq had its share of flaws

Posted in Iraq | 04-Feb-04 | Author: Eric Schmitt| Source: The New York Times

Study finds 'morass' of supply problems

WASHINGTON The first official army history of the Iraq war reveals that U.S. forces were plagued by a "morass" of supply shortages, radios that could not reach far-flung troops, a disappointing psychological operations campaign and virtually no reliable intelligence on how Saddam Hussein would defend Baghdad.

Logistics problems, which senior army officials played down at the time, were much worse than have been previously reported. It is well known that many army units ran low on fuel and water as fast-moving armored forces raced toward Baghdad and outran their supply lines. But the study offers vivid new details of a supply system on the brink of collapse.

Tank engines sat on warehouse shelves in Kuwait with no truck drivers to bring them north. Broken-down trucks were scavenged for usable parts and left by the roadside. Artillery units cannibalized parts from captured Iraqi guns to keep their howitzers operating. Army medics foraged for medical supplies from combat hospitals.

In most cases, soldiers improvised solutions to keep the offensive rolling. But the study found that the 3rd Infantry Division, the U.S. Army's lead combat force, was within two weeks of being halted by a lack of spare parts, and that army logisticians had no effective distribution system.

"The morass of problems that confounded delivering parts and supplies - running the gamut of paper clips to tank engines - stems from the lack of a means to assign responsibility clearly," the report concluded.

The findings are contained in a 504-page internal army history of the war written by the army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Its senior author was Gregory Fontenot, a retired army colonel.

The unclassified study was ordered last spring by the former army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, who clashed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over troop strength for postwar Iraq. The New York Times obtained a draft of the study, which draws on interviews with 2,300 people, 68,000 photographs and nearly 120,000 documents.

While the study serves mainly as a technical examination of the way the army performed and the problems it faced, it also serves as a political document that could reopen old wounds between the army and senior Pentagon officials, and could be used to advance the army's interests in the Pentagon.

The study said, for instance, that a decision approved by Rumsfeld to send mostly combat units in the weeks leading up to the invasion had had the "unintended consequence" of holding back support troops until much later, contributing greatly to the logistics problems. The study does not identify Rumsfeld by name.

Army officials said the timing of the study was not intended to influence passage of the proposed military budget that the Bush administration submitted Monday to Congress. But it could stir a debate in Congress over whether the military has enough troops to carry out missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots.

Senior army officials say lessons from the study - from revamping the way soldiers are deployed to overhauling battlefield supply-distribution networks - are already being incorporated into army training centers and among the 110,000 troops now replacing 130,000 soldiers in Iraq.

The bulk of the study is a lucid narrative devoted largely to detailed accounts of several pivotal battles. For the most part, it praises the army's combat operations and the ability of soldiers and commanders to adapt to rapidly shifting conditions on the battlefield.

The report refers only glancingly to two of the most contentious issues of the war: Iraq's suspected illicit weapons and the Pentagon's preparations for securing and rebuilding the country after major combat ended. The study does note, however, that the strategy of starting the war before all support troops were in place, in order to achieve an element of surprise, taxed the postwar resources of local commanders, who in many cases were shifting back and forth between combat operations and the task of restoring civil services.

"Local commanders were torn between their fights and providing resources - soldiers, time and logistics - to meet the civilian needs," the report concluded.

The study's authors saved their most biting critique for the logistics operations. When the combat forces raced ahead, the supply lines could not keep pace, they said.

Other problems cropped up. While divisional commanders could communicate with one another, officers at lower levels often could not. Units separated by long distances in the fast-moving offensive found their radios suddenly out of range, leaving troops to improvise solutions.

Despite elaborate army planning for a final battle in Baghdad - including the mapping of every building and section of the city of 5.5 million people - commanders and intelligence analysts were at a loss to determine how the Iraqis would defend Baghdad, if at all.

Not until armored columns carried out probes through Baghdad, the study found, did U.S. commanders realize that the city was virtually undefended.