Army Study of Iraq War Details a 'Morass' of Supply Shortages
By ERIC SCHMITT
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 The first official Army history of the Iraq war reveals that American forces were plagued by a "morass" of supply shortages, radios that could not reach far-flung troops, disappointing psychological operations 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 previously been reported. While the study serves mainly as a technical examination of how the Army performed and the problems it faced, it could also serve as a political document that could advance the Army's interests within the Pentagon.
Tank engines sat on warehouse shelves in Kuwait with no truck drivers to take them north. Broken-down trucks were scavenged for usable parts. Artillery units cannibalized parts from captured Iraqi guns to keep their howitzers operating. Army medics foraged medical supplies from combat hospitals.
In most cases, soldiers improvised solutions to keep the offensive rolling. But the study found that the Third Infantry Division, the Army's lead combat force, was within two weeks of being halted by a lack of spare parts, and 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 study said.
It also found that the Pentagon's decision to send mostly combat units in the weeks before the invasion had the "unintended consequence" of holding back support troops until much later, contributing greatly to the logistics problems.
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, Kan. The unclassified study, a draft of which was obtained by The New York Times, was ordered last spring by the former Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who clashed with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over troop strength for postwar Iraq. It draws on interviews with 2,300 people, 68,000 photographs and nearly 120,000 documents.
Its senior author was Gregory Fontenot, a retired Army colonel who commanded a battalion in the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and a brigade in Bosnia.
The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy are all conducting similar reviews of their forces' performance.
Army officials said the timing of the study was not intended to influence passage of a proposed military budget the Bush administration submitted to Congress on Monday. But it could fuel a debate on Capitol Hill over whether the military, and the Army in particular, has enough troops to carry out missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots.
Senior Army officials say lessons from the study from revamping how soldiers are deployed to overhauling battlefield supply-distribution networks are being incorporated into Army training centers and among the 110,000 troops now replacing 130,000 soldiers in Iraq.
The bulk of the study, a book entitled "On Point," 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 battlefield conditions.
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. "Partially due to the scarce resources as a result of the running start, there simply was not enough to do both missions."
The study's authors saved their most biting critique for the logistics operations. When the combat forces raced ahead, the supply lines "force flow" in military jargon could not keep pace. "As the campaign progressed, the force flow never caught up with the operational requirements," it found.
Put more bluntly elsewhere in the study, it said that "no one had anything good to say about parts delivery, from the privates at the front to the generals" at the command headquarters.
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 using mobile phones or secure e-mail messaging.
Commanders were relying on an extensive psychological operations campaign of leaflets and broadcasts to coax Iraqi soldiers into surrendering, as they did in large numbers in the 1991 gulf war, and to refrain from sabotaging Iraq's oil fields.
The study found that those messages either had failed to reach many of the intended Iraqi units or had baffled the Iraqi soldiers who got them. In addition, Saddam Fedayeen paramilitary fighters inserted in Iraqi Army units threatened and, in many cases, killed Iraqi soldiers who tried to desert or surrender.
Leaflets were prepared for the first 48 hours of combat, but the system to approve new written messages was so cumbersome that psychological operations teams on the ground were forced to rely solely on loudspeakers. "It is clear that on the whole, psyop produced much less than expected and perhaps less than claimed," the report found.
Despite elaborate Army planning for a final battle in Baghdad including the mapping of every section and building in 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.
"Intelligence officers at all echelons continued to have great difficulty accurately describing the threat in the city," the study concluded.
Not until armored columns carried out probes, called "thunder runs," through Baghdad, the study found, did American commanders realize that the city was not heavily defended.
The study also found that future adversaries could draw several lessons from the war: that American forces' reliance on high-tech surveillance satellites and aircraft could be countered by decoys and the imaginative disguise of weaponry; that more powerful warheads for rocket-propelled grenades, already effective against helicopters and light vehicles like Humvees, could offset American armor; that American forces could be drawn into a protracted, costly urban war, more effectively than they were by the Iraqis; and that American forces are vulnerable to classic insurgency tactics, like car bombs.