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Lessons Learned Process on Iraq War Explained

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2003 – Although the U.S. and coalition campaign against Iraq lasted just 38 days, Pentagon leaders are now in the process of analyzing data collected during the war to better understand "what went right" and "what went wrong."

Marine Maj. Gen. Gordon Nash, commander of Joint Warfighting Center, and Army Brig. Gen. Robert Cone, director of the Operation Iraqi Freedom Joint Lessons Learned Collection Team, briefed reporters on the lessons learned process during a video teleconference June 3. The warfighting center, part of Joint Forces Command, is located in Suffolk, Va.; the teleconference was beamed from command headquarters in nearby Norfolk.

The collection team's mission was to gather observations and data, conduct analyses and develop recommendations focused on improving joint warfighting capabilities and ensure victory in future conflicts, Nash said. But he also emphasized that the value of collecting information for lessons learned is to save lives, money and improve the military's capability.

Both men said they could not discuss particulars of what the collection team had learned thus far. That won't happen at least until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs' chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers are briefed later this year.

"Until we have reported to our bosses, we're going to talk about the process more than substance," Nash explained.

He said a team of about 35 military and civilian analysts from Joint Forces Command and the Joint Advance Warfighting Program began gathering information on the war March 6, almost two weeks before the conflict began. Today, seven members remain in Iraq to collect data on post-war operations.

Nash said the data collection team's early efforts focused on the logistics of the war, "getting the forces to the fight."

"We didn't focus on the strategic level as much, and we left the tactical level to the individual services," Nash said. "But there were certain things with regard to deployment, employment and sustainment that we were very interested in," he said.

Team members were embedded throughout the U.S. Central Command theater of operations at 10 or more sites, to include, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

They documented the operational levels of war on activities that took place at the forward-deployed CENTCOM headquarters and subordinate functional headquarters. In addition, they recorded interactions among CENTCOM, DoD agencies and other combatant commands supporting Gen. Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander who ran the war.

Cone said team tasks were to examine "what happened, why it happened and then determine what should be done about it."

"Sometimes we may want to document something that went extremely well, and certainly we had many cases of that," he said. "Other times we want to try an address a problem or help institutionalize a solution to a problem so that we can take our experience and spread it across the Department of Defense.

"Perhaps the most exciting case is when we see something that works, but we begin to think about better ways to have done it," Cone said. "In many cases this is thinking about the case of what might be if we made certain changes. That is really the exciting part of being in the lessons learned process," he added.

Cone said collection team officers, who were provided absolute unrestricted access throughout the war, took thousands of hours of observations and notes while attending meetings, planning sessions and command updates with key decision makers.

"Watching key decisions being made, problems being solved and generally being provided unrestricted access to the business and conduct of the war," Cone said, was "absolutely essential to having a good understanding of what went down."

"This was not a secret inspection, and there were no hidden agendas," he noted. "We were there to basically assist as observers, collect data and be helpful to the extent that we could."

The collection team collaborated online daily to discuss emerging "insights" into the war and to share feedback.

The team also performed more than 400 focus interviews with key leaders and staff officers during the war. "This has proven to be very useful to us getting at the key points and underlying issues to this conflict," Cone added.

He said the collection team has obtained nearly 4,000 data files of key activities and briefings conducted during the war.

He emphasized that having a data collection team serving on the ground with key leaders will be important to warfighters in the future.

Cone said the outcomes will provide today's answers to future combat commanders' questions, such as: "What is important to the warfigther? What was Gen. Franks trying to accomplish? What were the key issues that he had to deal with? How did he and his staff deal with them? How can we make things better for the next joint force commander?"

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