Fort McNair Conference Updates Coalition Partners
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, D.C., May 11, 2004 "I suppose this is what Americans mean when they say the coalition must have an international face," said a European attendee at the first Coalition Conference, held here May 6-7.
The man was talking about representatives from 54 nations gathered to receive updates on the war on terrorism and specifically about the strategies and ways ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We're all in this war on terrorism together, so we have to share this information and these ideas," said Army Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, the Joint Staff's director for strategic plans and policy. Sharp, along with British and Polish leaders, hosted the conference.
The conference grew out of a conversation that Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had with a visiting counterpart in April, Sharp said. The visiting chief of defense "half-jokingly" asked the chairman what was happening in Iraq and what was the way ahead.
"The chairman started his answer with, 'As I'm sure you know ' and this (chief of defense) said, 'No, I really don't know,'" Sharp said.
After the meeting, the chairman and Sharp looked for a way to share U.S. information and strategy on the global war on terrorism, and the coalition conference was the result. Sharp said the military abounds with like examples. "NATO does this as part of the periodic military review, which they do every six months for policy in Bosnia and Kosovo," he said.
The classified conference gave attendees a strategic look at what is happening on the ground, what U.S. officials foresee is going to happen and what the coalition plan is for the next six to 12 months," Sharp said during an interview following the conference. "What's happening on the ground translates into security needs, and forces needs," he said.
Sharp's office invited representative of 60 nations to attend. The countries invited were those already in Afghanistan or Iraq or which have expressed an interest in participating in operations. U.S. officials asked some nations with no troops on the ground to participate, because they might be able to provide forces as part of the U.N. protection force when the United Nations returns to Iraq.
The United Nations and NATO also sent representatives to the conference, as did U.S. combatant commands. A representative from the Afghan National Army attended, and there was an observer from Iraq. Sharp said he fully expects a representative from the Iraqi ministry of defense will attend any future meeting.
The first day of the conference centered on Iraq, and the second on Afghanistan. Attendees received briefings from Joint Staff and U.S. Central Command experts. The attendees also received briefings on the sourcing conferences and the shortages that have emerged following the sourcing conference.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace and Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith addressed the conference.
The conference was not limited to solely military subjects. Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, discussed the current political situation in Iraq, the status of setting up the interim Iraqi government and the status of a new U.N. resolution. Bloomfield also discussed how U.S. forces will work with the U.S. embassy in Baghdad once it opens.
A representative from the United Nations also briefed attendees on the requirements the United Nations will have as the organization re-enters Iraq.
The conference was structured to encourage feedback. "We really wanted to update the coalition partners on that what the plan is, where we see some of the challenges, and to solicit their ideas," Sharp said. "And we got a lot of great ideas as we went through the conference."
The U.N. role in Iraq sparked the most discussions, both during the conference and in the breaks between presentations. Sharp said there were many times when U.S. officials had to answer "I don't know" when asked questions about U.N. plans or how the new Iraqi government will deal with coalition forces. "We told them that we are very confident that we have the authority to continue to do what we need to do under U.N. (Security Council Resolution) 1511 and (Iraq's) Transitional Administrative Law," Sharp said.
"If we can get another (U.N. resolution) that adds on 1511, it will further codify what we are able to do," he continued. "At the same time, it gets at the understanding that we want to be in a partnership with Iraqis and a with the Iraqi security apparatus. Those mechanisms to coordinate that are still in development."
Sharp said the coalition conference will continue. "It helps once people start to know each other better," he said. "We're all on battlefields together somewhere around the world. There is a professional bond and a personal bond."
The attendees walked away knowing more of what's going on, with a better understanding of the needs and strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with "much better personal relationships that they can call upon as we work together in the coalition in the whole war on terrorism," the general said.