Monday, October 18, 2004

Roughing it

Funny, but I thought I heard the president say during the debates that he had given our troops everything they needed--and everything the commanders asked for:

Sanchez, who was the senior commander on the ground in Iraq from the summer of 2003 until the summer of 2004, said in his letter that Army units in Iraq were "struggling just to maintain . . . relatively low readiness rates" on key combat systems, such as M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, anti-mortar radars and Black Hawk helicopters.

He also said units were waiting an average of 40 days for critical spare parts, which he noted was almost three times the Army's average. In some Army supply depots in Iraq, 40 percent of critical parts were at "zero balance," meaning they were absent from depot shelves, he said.

He also protested in his letter, sent Dec. 4 to the number two officer in the Army, with copies to other senior officials, that his soldiers still needed protective inserts to upgrade 36,000 sets of body armor but that their delivery had been postponed twice in the month before he was writing. There were 131,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at the time.

In what appears to be a plea to top officials to spur the bureaucracy to respond more quickly, Sanchez concluded, "I cannot sustain readiness without Army-level intervention."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you would post that. Again, the reason for the dramatic reduction in efficiency along the lines of communication came from a spike in the insurgency's violence.

You make this sound as if it was DoD's fault that all of a sudden supply lines were mildly strained. When Sunni militants take out several key bridges, force combat operations that chew up tank treads, befoul truck filters and blow out ammo, normal supplies fall to abnormal levels.

Perhaps you could phrase the argument as: You know, we didn't realize the insurgency would be as dangerous or as long lasting as it was. The supply train for Iraqi operations (which is up to two months long) wasn't chugging fast enough to keep up with the tempo of operations for the army (but not the other services, which were just fine).

Part of the problem, and Rumsfeld would be the first to make it, stem from the unusually supply-sucking requirements of the army units in Iraq during the summer of 2003.

In a sense, the army was caught with the wrong combat formation. They had tank-heavy armor and artillery forces left over from the initial assault on Baghdad. I MARDIV had rotated out, as had the SEALS and other light units.

Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles require a lot of gas, a lot of spare parts, a lot of tinkering. Artillery require shells (and gas, and spare parts). A light infantry division doesn't need as much. Had they had more MP, Civil Affairs and light infantry in country during the initial phases of the insurrection, the supply "problem" would not have been so bad.

The other argument one could make is that Sanchez, because he was a good commander, was grossly overstating his case and making things seem "worse" than they were. Why? He wanted the supplies sent to his units in Iraq, and he wanted them NOW. Any commander would do that, even if he has to fudge the worries.

Just so you know, 3d ID, parked outside of Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom, went so far as to ask for a month-long op pause to consolidate supply lines, bring up spare parts, etc.

Did they really need a month? No. They took Baghdad in two days. The commanders, however, were grossly overstating their case to make a point. They wanted to wait a day or so to repair their lines of communication and sort out the order of battle before pushing into the capital.

The Marines, on the other hand, were lecturing the army commanders on going in light and fast. You see two philosophies on warmaking at play here. Rumsfeld wants to make the army more like the Marines because a revolution in arms, logistics and air cover gives more power to a small, light unit's punch.

This is taking time to work out, and supply issues like those faced by Sanchez (overstated as they were) are inevitable as commanders reform the force structure.

11:33 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Again, I might ascribe more validity to your arguments were it not for 1.) the fact that the administration ignored contigency plans the State Department had crafted for the occupation of Iraq, and sent inexperienced people with no knowledge of the country to try to rebuild it, and 2.) the fact that the administration rushed into an unnecessary war.

6:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you look at a story from WP through those prisms, then you will read it in a way I won't. But I gave you the reason why they faced the shortage, from an S-1, S-2, S-3 and S-4 perspective, not from a reporter's perspective.

I laid out why Sanchez would have sent that letter, what he was saying, why he said it the way he did, and what he hoped to accomplish by sending it. You wanted a military perspective as part of the conversation, right?

He wasn't intending it to be a political document, as certainly the leaker and the author of the piece (who I know very well) did. Sanchez would read his own letter very differently than you did, certainly, but so would the top Army civilian and military command.

State, as you might recollect, has been disastrously wrong in its advice to administrations about Iraq dating back to GHW Bush's term in office. (please note that State also believed Hussein would withdraw in the face of UN and US disapproval. WRONG!)

Let's recall the infamous nod given by the ambassador in Baghdad that led Saddam Hussein to believe the U.S. wouldn't contest an occupation of tbe Neutral Zone and Kuwait in 1990.

Let's recall the dim-witted advice Bush received that the Shia and the Kurds could overthrow the Baathists without U.S. air or logistic support.

Let's recall the abjectly stupid advice State provided on Desert Fox in 1998, when they reasoned it was better to bomb a few radar stations and blow up a couple of missile batteries rather than decapitating a regime at the moment of worldwide support for said removal.

Let's recall the bungled State plans to place key dissidents in office during a "coup" launched from Kurdish-held territory that had zero chance of succeeding.

On and on and on.

State, like the CIA, has been more often than not very, very wrong about Iraq. Britain, more often than not, has been very, very right.

I would much prefer for you to make your case for more troops, more MPs, etc., by mentioning UK's concerns on the eve of the invasion. That Bush didn't listen to his primary ally is more troublesome to me, on an operational level, than that he trusted Rumsfeld over the bureaucrats at the discredited State Department.

Please also note that it was the Pentagon, and not State, FBI or CIA, that sounded the clarion call about Al Qaeda a decade ago, during the Somali occupation.

Bush didn't make his decisions in a vacuum. And State's own track record is one reason why grumblings from there didn't reach the CoC.

6:50 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Numerous voices were telling the administration that they would need more troops, and they came from many quarters. Anyone with any sense should have expected an insurgency. (Of course, some people, like Jay Garner, believe an insurgency might have been prevented with more troops on the ground in the first place.) But the administration was blinded by hubris and ideology, and they listened only to those who told them what they wanted to hear.

I hope history redeems the president, no matter what happens Nov. 2. I hope that in the long run every war opponent will be proven wrong. Because if we are right, then we have foolishly squandered American lives, treasure and international goodwill.

9:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:52 PM


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