About That Red Team Report…
Michael R. Gordon's story overstates the importance of a review I ordered on Iraq.
Michael Gordon’s attempt to represent the August 2005 Red Team report as a missed opportunity to shorten the war is wishful thinking and not supported by the realities we were wrestling with in Iraq at that time.
The report was one of many Red Team reports chartered by me, and by the U.S. ambassadors and me, to provide us alternative views and to cause the U.S. civilian and military leadership in Iraq to come to grips with the difficult issues confronting the mission. These reports were one of many inputs the ambassador and I used to build our understanding of the environment and to shape our guidance to the U.S. Mission and Multinational Force. We used this particular report to help us shape a December 2005 joint statement of our mission for 2006, and to prepare a joint campaign plan that we issued in April 2006. We also used it as the impetus to implement a joint planning and assessment process that significantly improved our ability to integrate our efforts in 2006 and beyond. The idea that it was "ignored by generals" is not true. I didn’t agree with all of it, but I did not ignore it.
At the time of the report, we were only four months into a significant shift in our strategy to build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces so that we could transition the counterinsurgency campaign to them over time. The programs that would enable this strategy had just been put in place that June, and our assessment of how the concept was working wasn’t even scheduled until that September. We had also just begun discussions with the Iraqi government on the modalities and conditions for the transfer of security responsibility.
We knew that to credibly pass security responsibility to the Iraqis we had to bring the security situation in the provinces to levels that could be contained by the Iraqi security forces. In 2005, this meant that we — the coalition forces — would have to continue to fight the insurgency while were training the Iraqis, something our forces did with increasing effectiveness. We recognized from the start that this would not be easy and that it would take several years, but we felt that the shift had to be made sooner rather than later if we were to achieve our objectives in Iraq. To say that my strategy was "border control and transition to Iraqis" is a significant misstatement.
The Red Team advocated an "integrated counterinsurgency strategy," something that we had been working on since August 2004. We were having difficulty generating and integrating the political and economic effects in support of our security operations. At the same time that the Red Team was meeting, I sent a team of experts across Iraq to assess how we were executing counterinsurgency doctrine at the tactical level. Not surprisingly, for a force that was in the throes of a significant cultural shift from conventional operations to counterinsurgency operations, the team found that our execution was uneven. We established a number of measures, including the establishment of a COIN academy, to better prepare coalition leaders in the application of counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq. Our problem at that time was execution, not strategy.
Any war is replete with opportunities for retrospective thinking and quests for a "silver bullet" that would have changed everything. The idea, some seven years after the fact, that this Red Team report "was one of the most important — and until now, unknown missed opportunities of the war" is a contrivance that is not supported by the facts on the ground.