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Army Releases Account of First 18 Months After Saddam's Fall

By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2008 – A new book released by the Army examines the challenging period of transition from conventional combined-arms operations to full-spectrum and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003.

On Point II was written to provide a historical account for future Army leaders on the decisive 18 months following the overthrow of Saddam’s regime, Army Col. Timothy Reese, an armor officer and one of the book’s authors, told online journalists and bloggers in a teleconference yesterday.

“We tried to capture the improvisation and ingenuity of the average American soldier as they … work through the challenges of detainee operations and working without enough linguists and trying to figure out how to oversee or supervise reconstruction operations,” On Point II co-author Donald Wright added.

Reese explained that a period of uncertainty followed the regime’s collapse, when the message wasn’t clear on how U.S. and coalition forces would handle the turnover of power in Iraq.

“Was it an immediate turnover of power to … some sort of Iraqi governing body, or was it going to be a multiyear process of allied occupation leading to a constitution and elections?” he asked.

“That [message] was certainly missing, and it was a message that changed radically in the course of 30 days, so that hurt,” Reese said.

“You can imagine that, in that chaos, where assumptions are changing every day, it would have been very difficult for the military to sort of form this overall command message to the population about exactly where the coalition hoped to take Iraq and its citizens,” Wright said.

As a result, Reese said, U.S. Army and coalition forces throughout Iraq had to initiate programs without the presence of psychological operations and civil affairs assets and without guidance from centralized leadership.

“So, in places around the country, units kind of take up the slack and develop their own messages and programs,” Reese said, “and they filter up towards the higher headquarters, rather than from the higher headquarters down.”

Wright said that these challenges at the tactical level in the first 18 months after the collapse of the Saddam’s regime are the focus of most chapters in On Point II.

“Most of the chapters of the book are really at the tactical level,” Wright said. “How are the soldiers trying to deal with the guidance that they get from above, as well as the challenges they face in the [areas of responsibility]?

“And they’re all very different,” he continued. “The 1st Armored Division is facing a much different situation in Baghdad than is the 101st [Airborne Division] up in the Mosul area.”

Reese cited some examples of locally developed initiatives -- “everything from simple stuff like rules of the road when driving and how to pick up trash in your neighborhood, to how we’re going to form a local advisory council in your town or your province to help establish some self-government.”

“We try to describe that transition and show the incredible … ingenuity and initiative of units around the spectrum,” Reese added.

Regarding the apparent lack of central leadership during the period the book covers, Reese said he hopes readers won’t walk away thinking senior leaders in the U.S. government and armed forces were unprepared.

“The magnitude of the tasks in [front of] them were so immense and the time so short that it … would have been very, very difficult, no matter how good that planning was and how good the team structure was in these organizations,” he said.

“Even if that planning had been a bit more robust and had … happened earlier on in the process,” Reese added, “a lot of the assumptions on which that planning was done turned out to be incorrect once the coalition got to Baghdad.”

Reese explained that On Point II is part of a series of books on military history being published by the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“This book should be seen in the context of the Army as a learning organization, … where the Army tries to learn as best it can from its operations -- good, bad or otherwise,” he said.

(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of the Defense Media Agency.)

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