The McCaffrey trip report
General Barry McCaffrey (USA ret) made a trip to Iraq last April 13-20 and set out his observations in a widely circulated PDF summarized in the press reports here and here. While a verbatim copy has not been posted on the Web a reader has been kind enough to send the full text. MSNBC described McCaffrey as skeptic on the war as early as 2003. The New Republic called General McCaffrey Secretary Rumsfeld's "most outspoken critic" in 2004. McCaffrey made an earlier observation trip to Iraq in June 2005 whose findings are summarized in a memorandum to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Therefore McCaffrey's recent 2006 impressions can be directly compared to those of the previous year. And bear in mind that McCaffrey was no fan of the original OIF plan.
In 2005 McCaffrey believed that the US military was handling the insurgency but the challenge was to build Iraqi civil institutions.
US Military Forces in Iraq are superb. Our Army-Marine ground combat units with supporting Air and Naval Power are characterized by quality military leadership, solid discipline, high morale, and enormous individual and unit courage. Unit effectiveness is as good as we can get. This is the most competent and battle wise force in our nation’s history. They are also beautifully cared for by the chain-of-command --and they know it. ... The Iraqi Security Forces are now a real and hugely significant factor. LTG Dave Petreaus has done a brilliant job with his supporting trainers.
The point of the US war effort is to create legitimate and competent Iraqi national, provincial, and municipal governance. We are at a turning point in the coming six months. The momentum is now clearly with the Iraqi Government and the Coalition Security Forces. The Sunnis are coming into the political process. They will vote in December. Unlike the Balkans—the Iraqis want this to succeed. Foreign fighters are an enormously lethal threat to the Iraqi civilian population, the ISF, and Coalition Forces in that order. However, they will be an increasing political disaster for the insurgency.
But while he had confidence in the military outcome and hope for the political result in Iraq in 2005, he was less sanguine about whether OIF was being won in Western public opinion. With reporters unable to roam freely through the country and unwilling to spend weeks and months embedded with military units the war was in danger of being mis-reported. From his 2005 memo:
The US media is putting the second team in Iraq with some exceptions. Unfortunately, the situation is extremely dangerous for journalists. The working conditions for a reporter are terrible. They cannot travel independently of US military forces without risking abduction or death. In some cases, the press has degraded to reporting based on secondary sources, press briefings which they do not believe, and alarmist video of the aftermath of suicide bombings obtained from Iraqi employees of unknown reliability. ... Military leaders on the ground are talking to people they trust instead of talking to all reporters who command the attention of the American people. (We need to educate and support AP, Reuters, Gannet, Hearst, the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc.)
All the same McCaffrey believed the Iraq state would start to turn the corner in 2006. He stated his prediction in a series of bullet-points given within the context of what he believed were the principal developments to that point. The 2005 memo says (verbatim):
- The initial US/UK OIF intervention took down a criminal regime and left a nation without an operational State.
- The transitional Bremer-appointed Iraqi government created a weak state of warring factions.
- The January 2005 Iraqi elections created the beginnings of legitimacy and have fostered a supportive political base to create the new Iraqi Security Forces.
- The August Iraqi Constitutional Referendum and the December-January election and formation of a new government will build the prototype for the evolution of an effective, law-based Iraqi State with a reliable Security Force.
- January thru September 2006 will be the peak period of the insurgency --and the bottom rung of the new Iraq. The positive trend lines following the January 2006 elections (if they continue) will likely permit the withdrawal of substantial US combat forces by late summer of 2006. With 250,000 Iraqi Security Forces successfully operating in support of a government which includes substantial Sunni participation--the energy will start rapidly draining out of the insurgency.
After his return to Iraq in April, 2006 McCaffrey wrote a report in a nearly identical format, making it possible to compare the political and military situations -- and check on the accuracy of his predictions -- directly. Thanks to a Belmont Club reader we can provide long quotes from the McCaffrey 2006 memo. How were the military in 2006?
The morale, fighting effectiveness, and confidence of U.S. combat forces continue to be simply awe-inspiring. In every sensing session and interaction - I probed for weakness and found courage, belief in the mission, enormous confidence in their sergeants and company grade officers, an understanding of the larger mission, a commitment to creating an effective Iraqi Army and Police, unabashed patriotism, and a sense of humor. All of these soldiers, NCOs and young officers were volunteers for combat. Many were on their second combat tour - several were on the third or fourth combat tour. Many had re-enlisted to stay with their unit on its return to a second Iraq deployment. Many planned to re-enlist regardless of how long the war went on.
What about the Iraqi Army in 2006?
The Iraqi Army is real, growing, and willing to fight. They now have lead action of a huge and rapidly expanding area and population. The battalion level formations are in many cases excellent - most are adequate. ... The recruiting now has gotten significant participation by all sectarian groups to include the Sunni. The Partnership Program with U.S. units will be the key to success with the Embedded Training Teams augmented and nurtured by a U.S. Maneuver Commander. This is simply a brilliant success story.
The same high grade, however, could not be given to the Iraqi police. Though some units are good, many units are unreliable or incompetent. They were the key element to future stability; they were improving but still had a long way to go.
The Iraqi police are beginning to show marked improvement in capability since MG Joe Peterson took over the program. The National Police Commando Battalions are very capable - a few are simply superb and on par with the best U.S. SWAT units in terms of equipment, courage, and training. Their intelligence collection capability is better than ours in direct HUMINT. ... The police are heavily infiltrated by both the AIF and the Shia militia. They are widely distrusted by the Sunni population. They are incapable of confronting local armed groups. They inherited a culture of inaction, passivity, human rights abuses, and deep corruption. This will be a ten year project requiring patience, significant resources, and an international public face. This is a very, very tough challenge which is a prerequisite to the Iraqis winning the counter-insurgency struggle they will face in the coming decade. We absolutely can do this. But this police program is now inadequately resourced.
The main problem remains political. But even there -- despite the potential for disaster -- there was hope.
The creation of an Iraqi government of national unity is a central requirement. We must help create a legitimate government for which the Iraqi security forces will fight and die. If we do not see the successful development of a pluralistic administration in the first 120 days of the emerging Jawad al-Maliki leadership - there will be significant chance of the country breaking apart in warring factions among the Sunnis and Shia - with a separatist Kurdish north embroiled in their own potential struggle with the Turks. ... There is total lack of trust among the families, the tribes, and the sectarian factions created by the 35 years of despotism and isolation of the criminal Saddam regime. This is a traumatized society with a malignant political culture. ...
However, in my view, the Iraqis are likely to successfully create a governing entity. The intelligence picture strongly portrays a population that wants a federal Iraq, wants a national Army, rejects the AIF as a political future for the nation, and is optimistic that their life can be better in the coming years. Unlike the Balkans—the Iraqis want this to work. The bombing of the Samarra Mosque brought the country to the edge of all-out war. However, the Iraqi Army did not crack, the moderates held, Sistani called for restraint, the Sunnis got a chill of fear seeing what could happen to them as a minority population, and the Coalition Forces suddenly were seen correctly as a vital force that could keep the population safe in the absence of Iraqi power. In addition, the Shia were reminded that Iran is a Persian power with goals that conflict with the Shia Arabs of southern and central Iraq.
And what about Al Qaeda in 2006?
The foreign jihadist fighters have been defeated as a strategic and operational threat to the creation of an Iraqi government. Aggressive small unit combat action by Coalition Forces combined with good intelligence - backed up by new Iraqi Security Forces is making an impact. The foreign fighters remain a serious tactical menace. However, they are a minor threat to the heavily armed and wary U.S. forces. They cannot successfully stop the Iraqi police and army recruitment.
The main areas of failure are surprisingly -- for the oldest critic of Rumsfeld -- to be found outside of the Department of Defense. He had particularly choice words for the institutional inability of the State Department to "live and work with their Iraqi counterparts" for extended periods.
The U.S. Inter-Agency Support for our strategy in Iraq is grossly inadequate. A handful of brilliant, courageous, and dedicated Foreign Service Officers have held together a large, constantly changing, marginally qualified, inadequately experienced U.S. mission. ... U.S. consultants of the IRMO do not live and work with their Iraqi counterparts, are frequently absent on leave or home consultations, are often in-country for short tours of 90 days to six months, and are frequently gapped with no transfer of institutional knowledge. ...
The State Department actually cannot direct assignment of their officers to serve in Iraq. State frequently cannot staff essential assignments such as the new PRTs which have the potential to produce such huge impact in Iraq. The bottom line is that only the CIA and the U.S. Armed Forces are at war. This situation cries out for remedy.
Also underreported are his criticisms of detainee policy -- though they are not what you would think.
Thanks to strong CENTCOM leadership and supervision at every level, our detainee policy has dramatically corrected the problems of the first year of the War on Terrorism. Detainee practices and policy in detention centers in both Iraq and Afghanistan that I have visited are firm, professional, humane, and well supervised. However, we may be in danger of over-correcting. The AIF are exploiting our overly restrictive procedures and are routinely defying the U.S. interrogators. It is widely believed that the US has a “14 day catch and release policy” and the AIF “suspect” will soon be back in action.
This is an overstatement of reality, however, we do have a problem. Many of the AIF detainees routinely accuse U.S. soldiers of abuse under the silliest factual situations knowing it will trigger an automatic investigation. In my view, we will need to move very rapidly to a policy of the Iraqis taking legal charge of the detainees in our Brigade Detention Centers--- with us serving a support not lead role. We may need to hire U.S. contractor law enforcement teams at U.S. tactical battalion level to support the function of “evidentiary packages” as well as accompanying prisoners to testify in court in Baghdad.
The final danger was that OIF was running out of money and political support.
CENTCOM and the U.S. Mission are running out of the most significant leverage we have in Iraq - economic reconstruction dollars. Having spent $18 billion - we now have $1.6 billion of new funding left in the pipeline. Iraq cannot sustain the requisite economic recovery without serious U.S. support. The Allies are not going to help. They will not fulfill their pledges. Most of their pledges are loans not grants. ...
There is a rapidly growing animosity in our deployed military forces toward the U.S. media. We need to bridge this gap. Armies do not fight wars - countries fight wars. We need to continue talking to the American people through the press. They will be objective in reporting facts if we facilitate their information gathering mission.
In closing, McCaffrey said:
The Iraqi political system is fragile but beginning to play a serious role in the debate over the big challenges facing the Iraqi state - oil, religion, territory, power, separatism, and revenge. The neighboring states have refrained from tipping Iraq into open civil war. The UN is cautiously thinking about re-entry and doing their job of helping consolidate peace. The Iraqis are going to hold Saddam and his senior leadership accountable for their murderous behavior over 35 years. The brave Brits continue to support us both politically and militarily. NATO is a possible modest support to our efforts.
There is no reason why the U.S. cannot achieve our objectives in Iraq. Our aim must be to create a viable federal state under the rule of law which does not: enslave its own people, threaten its neighbors, or produce weapons of mass destruction. This is a ten year task. We should be able to draw down most of our combat forces in 3-5 years. We have few alternatives to the current US strategy which is painfully but gradually succeeding. This is now a race against time. Do we have the political will, do we have the military power, will we spend the resources required to achieve our aims?
It was very encouraging for me to see the progress achieved in the past year. Thanks to the leadership and personal sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of men and women of the CENTCOM team and the CIA – the American people are far safer today than we were in the 18 months following the initial intervention.
Whatever one thinks of McCaffrey's 2005 and 2006 Iraqi memos, the observation that "armies do not fight wars - countries fight wars" should be non-controversial. One of the themes of the 2005 memorandum, re-emphasized in 2006, was that while military systems have adapted, two key political systems -- the political and economic reconstruction mechanism; and public diplomacy, including the press -- have not. The first failure is manifested by the inability of civilian agencies to deploy personnel able to "live and work with their Iraqi counterparts" in the manner of the military or to adapt to the challenges of providing economic development assistance in a terrorist-threatened environment. The institutional failure of the Press is no less signal. Unable to cover Iraq in the normal way; unwilling to assign its stars for long periods of embedding with the US military, it has been "degraded to reporting based on secondary sources, press briefings which they do not believe, and alarmist video of the aftermath of suicide bombings obtained from Iraqi employees of unknown reliability". And if it is true that countries, not armies fight wars, then it is a depressing commentary that only one of three legs has adapted to the exigencies of combat. "The bottom line is that only the CIA and the U.S. Armed Forces are at war. This situation cries out for remedy."
Whether or not Donald Rumsfeld has been going about it the right way he may have been conceptually correct in emphasizing the transformation of the US Armed Forces even at the expense of accepting certain risks. The question is why other agencies have not followed suit. When Secretary Rice announced her intention to transform the State Department in January 2006, it was given scant coverage and treated largely as a non-event.
Not many would quarrel with the lofty goals, but how was this going to affect American diplomats and the work they do? Rice and senior officials explained what this would mean. There would be a new focus on regional solutions to address such issues as counter-terrorism, drug trafficking and disease. America’s diplomats will be required as part of their career advancement to serve in hardship posts like Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria. More Foreign Service officers will be based outside of our embassies which are located in world capitals (American Presence Posts) and some will do their diplomatic work making contact with foreign nationals by managing newly created Internet sites (Virtual Presence Post).
Rice said we do not now have the right numbers of people in the right places. As an example, she said, “we have nearly the same number of State Department personnel in Germany, a country of 82 million people, that we have in India, a country of one billion people.” Rice concedes these shifts in priorities will be “the work of a generation” but she said it will start this year with a “down payment” by shifting 100 positions, mostly now based in Washington and Europe, to “countries like China and India and Nigeria and Lebanon.”
And that's why they haven't followed suit. Rice's efforts are a testimony to how hard it is to transform an institution as large as the State Department, where it is only possible to shift "100 positions" in a work that will last a "generation". It's reasonable to assume that if the Secretary of State had forced the pace of change in the first year of the war instead of the fifth that there might now be an Ambassador's Mutiny calling for the Secretary's head, because there is a definite tradeoff between changing to meet the future and performing the job at hand. And what of the Press? How has it adapted to covering the news in the terrorist age? Well, maybe General McCaffrey will make another trip to Iraq next year and let us know how they've come along because if countries, not armies fight wars it will take more than just the military to win against global terrorism.
Bill Roggio is leaving for Afghanistan and explains his goals at a podcast interview I have within him over at Pajamas Media. Do listen if you're interested.