Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Reflections by General David Petraeus, USA (Ret.) on the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Reflections by General David Petraeus, USA (Ret.) on the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Article excerpt

Can you tell us how your view of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evolved during your various leadership assignments?

GEN Petraeus: When we were getting ready for what became the invasion of Iraq, the prevailing wisdom was that we were going to have a long, hard fight to Baghdad, and it was really going to be hard to take Baghdad. The road to deployment, which was a very compressed road for the 101st Airborne Division, started with a seminar on military operations in urban terrain, because that was viewed as the decisive event in the takedown of the regime in Iraq- that and finding and destroying the weapons of mass destruction.

There was the expectation of those who were presumably thinking about the Phase IV plan, after-hostilities, that the invasion would lop off the top level of the Saddamists, and then we would relatively expeditiously be able to hand off the responsibilities of governance to some new governing entity, which would exercise governance through the existing institutions of the state, albeit without the Saddamists. By Saddamists, I mean the true loyalists-this would not go down to Ba'ath party level four. It would be Saddam, level one, level two, perhaps some of the level three. But the professionals, if you will, the governing class, would largely remain in place, and there would be functioning governmental institutions that would resume their respective tasks.

When I was in Kuwait, we had a final gathering of commanders on the eve of battle. At the end of this discussion, they asked for questions. I raised my hand and said, "Excuse me, I got it about the fight to Baghdad and taking down Baghdad, but can you go into a little more detail on what happens after that?" And one of the ORHA [Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance] guys stood up and replied, "Dave, don't you worry about that. You just get us to Baghdad, and we'll take it from there." And I reflected on that many times subsequently.

In fact, when we got to Najaf (about half way to Baghdad), which the 101st eventually liberated, cleared, and then occupied, we got into a really tough fight. It was a sustained, 72-hour fight, and then all of a sudden it collapsed. I called Lieutenant General (LTG) Wallace, the V Corps Commander, and said, "Hey boss, there's good news and bad news. The good news is we own Najaf." And he responded, "Great, congratulations!" In fact, we had convinced him that we needed Najaf; I had argued that we needed to take it down rather than just contain it, because you could not contain these places forever. We needed to give it a shot and learn from this for when we get to Baghdad. The 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) was in the lead and bypassing all these places, as you recall. Then LTG Wallace asked, "So, what's the bad news?" And I explained, "The bad news is the same as the good news: we own Najaf. What do you want us to do with it? I've got a whole brigade combat team tied up securing it, and we're already focusing on the fight to liberate Karbala" (the next city that 3ID had bypassed).

And so I asked, "Where are these [ORHA] guys? Why don't we get them to practice here in Najaf?" And he answered, "You've got to wait a bit, as they're still getting organized down in Kuwait." So instead of being able to immediately open the airfield, immediately bring in civil affairs, and bring in people who were going to take over the administrative functions-we had to do it all ourselves, tying down nearly one third of our ground combat power. Because of that-being spread so thin-and because of a number of other factors that kept us from having sufficient forces in Baghdad, the looting ended up being as bad as it was. If you do not impose order right away and don't maintain it, and you do not get functions being performed right away, people realize the situation, and they start to take advantage of it as only mobs can. Ultimately, when Baghdad fell, the mobs were in the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. …

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