This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=us_central_command
In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (see December 8, 1979), President Carter declares in his annual State of the Union address, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” This will become known as the Carter Doctrine. (Scott 2007, pp. 69, 303) The US immediately follows up with a massive build up of military forces in the region. New military arrangements are made with Kenya, Oman, Somalia, Egypt, and Pakistan. In March 1980, a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force is created, which will be renamed US Central Command (or Centcom) several years later. (Scott 2007, pp. 78-79, 308-309)
President Reagan signs into law the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, originally sponsored by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Representative Bill Nichols (D-AL). Goldwater-Nichols, as it is sometimes called, sparks the largest reorganization of the US military since the National Security Act of 1947. Operational authority is centralized through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as opposed to the actual service chiefs themselves. The chairman is designated as the primary military adviser to the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and the secretary of defense. The legislation also reorganizes the military command structure into several “commands”:
By geographical region (Northern Command, or NORTHCOM; Central Command, or CENTCOM; European Command, or EUCOM; Pacific Command, or PACOM; and Southern Command, or SOUTHCOM); and
By function (Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM; Special Operations Command, or SOCOM; Strategic Command, or STRATCOM; and Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM). (Statement on Signing the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 10/1/1986 ; Lederman 1999; Wilson 2004, pp. 212; US Air Force Air University 11/21/2007; National Defense University Library 2/10/2008)
A large military, computer-based exercise called “Internal Look 90,” conducted by US Central Command (CENTCOM), anticipates the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2. The exercise reflects the change in the threat perception by the US military. Since his appointment as commander of CENTCOM in November 1988, General Norman Schwarzkopf has been concerned that the main threat to the Gulf region is no longer a Soviet attack, but an attempt by Iraq to control the region’s energy resources using its large military following the end of the Iraq-Iran war. “With a huge, well-equipped military at loose ends, Schwarzkopf realized that the Iraqis had replaced the Soviets as the most serious threat to the Persian Gulf,” according to the official account of the war published as the book Certain Victory: The US Army in the Gulf War. (Scales 1998, pp. 43-44) Therefore, CENTCOM’s main command post exercise, Internal Look, which is held every two years, is no longer focused on the Soviet Union, but on the possibility of an Iraqi invasion of the Arabian Peninsula. In July 1990, Internal Look 90 simulates an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia. This scenario will prove prescient: “As the exercise unfolded, the real-world movements of Iraq’s air and ground forces eerily paralleled the scripted scenario of the war game. So closely did actual intelligence reports resemble the fictional exercise messages, the latter had to be prominently stamped ‘Exercise Only,’” according to the website GlobalSecurity.org. (GlobalSecurity 2008)
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, accompanied by senior aide Paul Wolfowitz and US CENTCOM commander-in-chief General Norman Schwarzkopf, visits Saudi Arabia just four days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). (Sick 8/3/2000; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 100) Cheney secures permission from King Fahd for US forces to use Saudi territory as a staging ground for an attack on Iraq. Cheney is polite, but forceful; the US will not accept any limits on the number of troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, and will not accept a fixed date of withdrawal (though they will withdraw if Fahd so requests). Cheney uses classified satellite intelligence to convince Fahd of Hussein’s belligerent intentions against not just Kuwait, but against Saudi Arabia as well. Fahd is convinced, saying that if there is a war between the US and Iraq, Saddam Hussein will “not get up again.” Fahd’s acceptance of Cheney’s proposal goes against the advice of Crown Prince Abdullah. (Sick 8/3/2000; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 100-101) With Prince Bandar bin Sultan translating, Cheney tells Abdullah, “After the danger is over, our forces will go home.” Abdullah says under his breath, “I would hope so.” Bandar does not translate this. (Pollack 9/2002; Pollack 1/13/2003) On the same trip, Cheney also visits Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who rejects Cheney’s request for US use of Egyptian military facilities. Mubarak tells Cheney that he opposes any foreign intervention against Iraq. (Sick 8/3/2000) US forces will remain in Saudi Arabia for thirteen years (see April 30-August 26, 2003).
The US Central Command, or CENTCOM (see October 1, 1986), conducts a series of war games called “Desert Crossing” centered on the scenario of Saddam Hussein being ousted as Iraq’s dictator. CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni will later say of the scenario, “I thought we ought to look at political reconstruction, economic reconstruction, security reconstruction, humanitarian need, services, and infrastructure development.” The game concludes that unless measures are taken, “fragmentation and chaos” will ensue after his overthrow. The after-action report finds that regime change may cause instability throughout the Middle East by giving impetus to “rival forces bidding for power” which, in turn, could cause societal “fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines” and antagonize “aggressive neighbors.” Securing borders and civil order may not be enough to restabilize Iraq, the report speculates, if the new government is perceived as either weak, subservient to outside governments, or out of touch with other Middle Eastern governments. The report finds that an exit strategy would be complicated by differing ideas for how a post-Saddam Iraq should be. Any US-supported transitional government will find it difficult to restrain various factions from pursuing their own tribal and sectarian vendettas against one another, the report finds. The game is quickly forgotten; years later, when the Bush administration will begin planning for its invasion of Iraq, the retired Zinni will recommend that his successors “dust off Desert Crossing,” and they will respond: “What’s that? Never heard of it.” (John Prados 11/4/2006; Roberts 2008, pp. 125, 233)
The Joint Experimentation Directorate of the US Joint Forces Command, in partnership with US Central Command and US Special Operations Command, conducts a three-week exercise called Unified Vision 2001 (UV 01). Over 40 organizations and 350 personnel from all branches of the armed services and other federal agencies participate. (US Joint Forces Command 6/25/2001; Aerospace America 12/2001; US Congress 4/9/2002; Arkin 2005, pp. 540) UV 01 tests the ability of the military’s provisional Homeland Security Joint Force to respond, following “chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia.” It is based around the scenario of a major regional threat coming from the Middle East, requiring a “global deployment into a landlocked country with hostile terrain and a lack of basing and agreements with neighboring countries for US access.” Dave Ozolek, assistant director of the exercise, says, “The threat we portrayed was an unstable and hostile state, but the primary enemy was not the state itself but a transnational actor based out of that area, globally connected, capable and willing to conduct terrorist attacks in the US as part of that campaign.” As the American Forces Press Service will later report, “real events similar to the Unified Vision scenario unfolded in the attacks of Sept. 11. The al-Qaeda is a global terrorist network hosted by an unstable, landlocked Central Asian regime.” Many of the participants in UV 01 will, following 9/11, become war planners and utilize their experiences from the exercise in the resulting military operations. Ozolek will later remark, “Nostradamus couldn’t have nailed the first battle of the next war any closer than we did.… [T]his time we got it right.” He will say, however, that UV 01 did not foresee the severity of terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11, and involved terrorists attacking US military targets, rather than civilian ones. The Joint Forces Command will refuse to say whether the Pentagon was among these imagined targets. (Garamone 7/30/2002; Murray 9/11/2002)
US Central Command raises the force protection condition level for US forces based in the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf. In six countries the force protection level is raised to Delta, the highest level possible. The US orders all its naval ships docked in those countries out to sea, and the US Fifth Fleet moves out of port in Bahrain. Regional military exercises are canceled and US embassies are temporarily closed. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534) This is partly in response to an al-Qaeda video which surfaced the previous week containing the message, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most” (see June 19, 2001). (Bamford 2004, pp. 241; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534) Additionally, Newsweek reports at the time that this alert comes after “Western intelligence agencies picked up ‘quite reliable’ signs of increased activity among Islamic extremists with Afghanistan ties. These indications are said to have included information picked up through electronic monitoring of suspected militants, who US experts say have acquired fairly sophisticated communications and computer equipment.” (Newsweek 7/22/2001) However, as author James Bamford later notes, “No precautions were ever taken within the United States, only overseas.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 241)
A US plan to snatch Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan (see January 19, 2001) is revealed in the Pakistan press, after the US asks Pakistan for assistance with the plot. An article that runs in the Pakistan newspaper The News also says that the US and Pakistan have discussed a sting operation in Afghanistan using US special forces, but that Pakistan has advised Washington against it. After a UN resolution tightening sanctions against the Taliban, General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of US Central Command, discussed the plan with his Pakistani counterparts and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during a visit to Islamabad in January 2001 (see January 19, 2001). (Roelofsma 8/17/2001) There is some suggestion that the operation is attempted, but only partially successful, after 9/11 (see (September 26, 2001)).
Army General Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), says his biggest fear is that terrorists will attack the World Trade Center. Franks gives a presentation to the CENTCOM intelligence staff at the command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, about what he thinks the major threats facing the US in the Middle East and Central Asia are. When he finishes, a young sergeant asks him, “General, what keeps you awake at night?” According to Computerworld magazine, Franks replies, “The thought of one tower of the World Trade Center collapsing into the other tower, killing thousands of people.” But in his memoir, published in 2004, Franks will write that he answers, “A terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in New York—that’s what keeps me awake at night.” Franks, according to his own recollections, then elaborates, saying, “If international terrorists were to strike a major blow against America, I fear the specter of the nation’s military operating as combatants within our borders for the first time since the 1860s.” Therefore, he continues, “the thing that keeps me awake at night… is the possible use of our armed forces against American citizens.” Military personnel, he says, are “not police officers, sheriffs, or the FBI,” and so if they “were ever required to act in that capacity during a major emergency like an attack on the World Trade Center, the effect on America could be devastating.” He concludes by saying, “Martial law would not sit well in a free and open society.” (Verton 10/21/2003; Franks 2004, pp. 236-237) As CENTCOM commander, Franks is in charge of US military operations in an area covering 25 nations in North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. (CNN 10/24/2001; ABC News 1/7/2006) He will lead the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (Iqbal 8/17/2004)
The commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), which encompasses the area of Afghanistan, issues an order instructing that the Geneva Conventions are to be applied to all captured individuals. (Wallach 9/29/2004)
About 4,000 US marines have arrived in Afghanistan by now. Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of these troops, is convinced his forces can seal the Tora Bora area to trap bin Laden there. Around this date, Mattis argues strongly to his military superiors at Centcom that his troops should fight at Tora Bora, but he is turned down. The New York Times will later report that the Bush administration will eventually secretly conclude “that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines—along with their failure to commit US ground forces to Afghanistan generally—was the gravest error of the war.” (Weaver 9/11/2005)
US Central Command watches as a Predator drone captures images of a very tall man being greeted by a small group of people in the Zawar Kili area of eastern Afghanistan. It is quickly agreed the man could be Osama bin Laden, who is known to be unusually tall. Within minutes, approval is given to launch a Hellfire missile from the drone. By this time, the tall man has broken off from the group with two others. The missile hones in on him and kills him and his two companions. Journalists will later report that the men were villagers who had been scavenging in the woods for scrap metal. (Hersh 12/16/2002; Bohan et al. 5/12/2011) But in trying to determine the identity of the target, US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA (see Shortly After February 4, 2002).
Military planners in the US’s Central Command (CENTCOM) finalize their plans for invading Iraq. “[T]he end state for this operation is regime change [with] an acceptable provisional/permanent government in place,” the plans read. However, the plans do not tell how the goal of an acceptable, permanent government will be achieved. They do not even address what US troops should do once they reach Baghdad. Public policy professor Alasdair Roberts will later write that there are what he will call two main reasons for “CENTCOM’s neglect.” One, “occupation and reconstruction [are] not a core function for the military” (see May 14, 2004). The military has no real component for performing such tasks, and most military commanders have little interest in the subject, Roberts will write. Two, other government agencies, most notably the State Department, have responsibility for this subject. CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks tells subordinates that once Saddam Hussein is overthrown, the State Department will take the lead in directing the occupation and reconstruction. (Roberts 2008, pp. 125)
Former Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Anthony Zinni, a critic of the push for war with Iraq (see October 10, 2002), says that he “bristle[s] against ideas of small forces” in any possible invasion of Iraq, directly contradicting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s constant exhortation to “do it smaller.” The US will need to maintain order in Iraq during a lengthy and fractious period of transition to self-rule, Zinni warns, and to do that properly will require a large number of troops. (Roberts 2008, pp. 141) Zinni publicly spoke out against the invasion earlier in the month (see October 10, 2002).
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, and then promoted to head of the Iraq Issues Group, will later say that in late 2002 to early 2003, “the best experienced, most qualified people who we had been using in Afghanistan shifted over to Iraq.” The CIA’s most skilled counterterrorism specialists and Middle East and paramilitary operatives move to Iraq and are replaced in Afghanistan by younger agents. Grenier will say, “I think we could have done a lot more on the Afghan side if we had more experienced folks.” A former senior official of the Pentagon’s Central Command involved with both wars later says that as war with Iraq draws closer, more special operative units like Delta Force and Navy SEALs Team Six shift to Iraq from Afghanistan. “If we were not in Iraq… we’d have the ‘black’ Special Forces you most need to conduct precision operations. We’d have more CIA. We’re simply in a world of limited resources, and those resources are in Iraq. Anyone who tells you differently is blowing smoke.” (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007) Other special forces and CIA were moved from Afghanistan to Iraq in early 2002 (see Early 2002).
US military officials insist that US and British aerial attacks against targets in Iraq are being conducted only in response to Iraqis firing on planes patrolling the so-called “no-fly” zones. The increased number of aerial strikes (see June 2002-March 2003) is a response, they say, to Iraq’s increased hostility toward US and British jets, not preparation for a ground attack as some critics have suggested. “The Iraqi regime has increased its attacks on the coalition, so the coalition has increased its efforts to protect its pilots,” Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the US Central Command in Tampa, says. “Every coalition action is in direct response to Iraqi hostile acts against our pilots, or the regime’s attempts to materially improve its military infrastructure south of the 33rd parallel.” But according to the Washington Post, these officials have also “acknowledge[d] that military planners are taking full advantage of the opportunity to target Iraq’s integrated air defense network for destruction in a systemic fashion that will ease the way for US air and ground forces if President Bush decides war is the only option for disarming Iraq.” Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute who has ties to defense contractors and the Pentagon, says the attacks on Iraq’s southern air defenses will allow the US military “to send in almost anything it wants—bombers, fighters, and helicopters with Special Operations Forces” when the official invasion begins. It will also make it safer for the slow-moving C-17 transports to move troops inside Iraq. Similarly, retired Air Force Col. John Warden, who helped plan the US air campaign against Iraq in 1991, explains, “Anything that would need to be knocked out that is knocked out now saves some sorties once the war starts.” The attacks, he notes, have “some obvious value in the event of a war.” Anthony H. Cordesman, a former defense official at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also disputes the notion that the increased US air attacks are purely retaliatory. “You enforce containment when you carry out these strikes, and you deter Iraq from any kind of military adventure,” he explains. “And when you conduct these strikes, you are preparing part of the battleground for a war.” (Loeb 1/15/2003)
US military commanders in Afghanistan request clarification and guidance from CENTCOM and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to what interrogation techniques they can use against detainees in US custody. The commanders describe the techniques currently being employed and recommend that they be approved as official policy for Afghanistan operations. Some of the techniques had been approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for Guantanamo exclusively (see December 2, 2002); others had been rescinded altogether. Those officials ignore the request. After a time, the military commanders in Afghanistan will decide that “silence is consent,” and will adopt the techniques being used as “official policy.” (American Civil Liberties Union 7/10/2006)
The US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute produces a report assessing the challenges the US will probably face in post-Hussein Iraq. According to the report:
“Ethnic, tribal, and religious schisms could produce civil war or fracture the state after Saddam is deposed.”
Iraq reconstruction will require “a considerable commitment of American resources.”
The “longer US presence is maintained, the more likely violent resistance will develop.”
Political parties will likely form along ethnic, tribal, and religious lines. Free elections among these parties may actually “increase divisions rather than mitigate them.”
Armed militias may emerge.
Islamic radicals could move in and conduct suicide bombings in an effort to turn Iraqis against the US occupation
Revenue from oil production will be insufficient to fund reconstruction.
The occupation force will find it “exceptionally challenging” to provide Iraqis with electricity, water, food, and security.
The paper lists 135 postinvasion tasks that the US would need to perform, including securing the borders, establishing local governments, protecting religious, historical, and cultural sites, establishing police systems, restoring and maintaining power systems, operating hospitals, reorganizing Iraq’s military and security forces, and disarming militia groups.
The reports says the US should not abolish the Iraqi army.
About a thousand copies of the report are distributed to various government officials and offices, including to members of Congress. While Central Command reportedly appreciates the report, there is no feedback from the Pentagon’s civilian leadership. (Strategic Studies Institute 2/2003 ; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 197-198; Blumenthal 6/8/2006)
Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, at US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar, shows reporters a video clip of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 1, 2003), filmed with night-vision lenses. The clip shows Lynch on a stretcher and being rushed to a helicopter. Brooks says that before the raid, the hospital was apparently doubling as a military command post for Iraqi forces. (Schmidt and Loeb 4/3/2003) “We were successful in that operation last night and did retrieve Pfc. Jessica Lynch, bringing her away from that location of danger, clearing the building of some of the military activity that was in there.” Brooks says. “There was not a fire-fight inside the building I will tell you, but there were fire-fights outside of the building getting in and getting out. There were no coalition casualties as a result of this and in the destruction that occurred inside of the building, particularly in the basement area where the operations centers had been, we found ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model, and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post. The nature of the operation was a coalition special operation that involved Army Rangers, Air Force pilots and combat controllers, US Marines and Navy Seals. It was a classical joint operation done by some of our nation’s finest warriors, who are dedicated to never leaving a comrade behind.” (Mitchell 7/14/2008)
Reporters Given Video - Within hours, reporters are given a slickly produced five-minute edited version of the video of Lynch’s rescue, edited by a Defense Department production crew. Author and media critic Frank Rich later calls it “an action-packed montage of the guns-blazing Special Operations raid to rescue Lynch, bathed in the iridescent green glow of night-vision photography.” The video vies with a still photo of a barely conscious Lynch lying on a stretcher, with an American flag on her chest, for the most-broadcast image of the day. (Rich 2006, pp. 80-82) (In a tragic corollary to the video of Lynch’s rescue, the father of James Kiehl, a fellow soldier killed in the March 23 assault, was unable to find his son in the video footage. He will eventually find a shot of his son, dead and laid out behind the hospital, in a picture on the Al Jazeera Web site. The Defense Department videographers had left footage of Kiehl on the cutting room floor.) (Rich 2006, pp. 80-82; Moore 3/19/2006)
Some Reporters Dubious - CNN’s veteran war correspondent, Tom Mintier, later says, “I was a bit upset that [the Pentagon] spent so much time giving us all the minute-by-minute, this happened, that happened, she said this, we said that… and on a day when you have forces going into Baghdad, it wasn’t part of the briefing. Seems like there is an effort to manage the news in an unmanageable situation. They tried it in the first Gulf War, this time it was supposed to be different.” (Rich 2006, pp. 80-82)
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Subsequent interviews with Iraqi hospital staffers and nearby residents show that almost every aspect of the Pentagon’s story is fabrication (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, May 25, 2003, and June 17, 2003).
General John P. Abizaid, successor to General Tommy Franks as commander of US Central Command, says during a satellite video conference that a three division interim Iraqi military made up of former units of the old Iraqi military in addition to members of anti-Saddam opposition groups will be assembled by the US in order to stabilize Iraq. Potential members of the new force will be vetted at processing centers and assigned to minor tasks such as guarding government buildings and securing the border. Abizaid believes that armies in Arab countries are important, not only from a military standpoint, but from a social standpoint as well because they provide jobs and help to keep Arab societies together. His plan would have attempted to field the divisions within three months. (Gordon and Trainor 3/14/2006, pp. 480)
US military Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Tommy Franks issues an order formally recognizing the creation of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA - see January 2003), an ad hoc, improvised organization to be headed by former diplomat and business executive L. Paul Bremer. A 2006 report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction will call the CPA the “de facto government of Iraq.” But for all its power, its legal status will remain unclear throughout its existence. A 2005 Congressional report will note: “Whether the CPA was a federal agency was unclear. Competing explanations for how it was established contribute to the uncertainty.… Some executive branch documents supported the notion that it was created by the president, possibly as a result of a National Security Presidential Directive. This document, if it exists, has not been made available.” Whether the legal ambiguity is deliberate is unclear, but it will be exploited. The Defense Department will not allow federal auditors to investigate CPA spending because, the department says, it is not a federal agency. Contractors are warned that if the CPA breaks contracts, they might not have recourse in federal courts. Employees who suspect contractor fraud are told they cannot pursue any possible criminal actions under American law. (Roberts 2008, pp. 127)
New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” (Miller 4/21/2003) The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” (Layton 8/2003; Palermo 1/30/2007)
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). (Slate 7/25/2003) Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. (Layton 8/2003)
BBC correspondent John Kampfner discusses his recent report disputing the original coverage of the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see May 15, 2003). Kampfner’s report is the basis for a recent BBC documentary as well as a news article. An Iraqi doctor stated in Kampfner’s report that he believed the entire rescue had been staged; Kampfner does not believe that. “Credit where it is due,” Kampfner says. “The Americans had a legitimate right in getting Lynch out of the hospital in Nasiriya. They had no way of knowing what her fate was, whether she was being well or badly treated. So, it is entirely legitimate for any country to want to get its own out as quickly and as safely as possible. Where we took issue with the official version as put out by Central Command, in Doha [Qatar], to the world’s press, was the way the Americans did it. They went in, all guns blazing, helicopters, a great, heroic rescue mission.” Kampfner wants to know why the Pentagon will only allow the BBC and other news organizations to see its edited version of the film of the rescue instead of “the rushes,” which Kampfner explains is “the unedited film, the real-time film, as shot by the US military cameraman who was with the rescue mission.… They declined to do that.” Kampfner also notes that British government officials were worried from the outset “about the way the Americans conducted the whole media operation from Doha. [A] British military spokesman… told us on camera that he was deeply unhappy with the American media handling.” (CNN 5/20/2003)
President Bush visits US CENTCOM headquarters in Doha, Qatar. One of the pressing issues on his mind is the continued failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As Time magazine later recounts the visit, Bush, meeting with the various generals in charge of the US forces, “skip[s] quickly past the niceties” and begins asking about WMD. No one answers. “Are you in charge of finding WMD?” he asks L. Paul Bremer, the newly installed head of the US civilian-led government (see May 1, 2003). Bremer says no, and a clearly exasperated Bush asks the same question of General Tommy Franks, head of CENTCOM. Franks also denies responsibility. Finally, someone names the Washington official in charge of finding WMD: Defense Department aide Stephen Cambone. “Who?” Bush asks. (Rich 2006, pp. 96)
The Washington Post publishes a much more exhaustively researched attempt at telling the accurate story of US Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture, rescue, and subsequent recovery. The Post printed a dramatic tale of Lynch’s guns-blazing capture, her abuse at the hands of her captors, and the firefight that resulted in her rescue (see April 1, 2003). That story turned out to be almost entirely fictional, most likely a product of Pentagon propaganda (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, and May 25, 2003). In a very different front-page story, it now attempts to tell the story directly and without embellishment.
Brief Propaganda Victory - The original story, featuring Lynch emptying her M-16 into her assailants until finally succumbing to multiple gunshot wounds, quickly made Lynch into what the Post calls “the story of the war, boosting morale at home and among the troops. It was irresistible and cinematic, the maintenance clerk turned woman-warrior from the hollows of West Virginia who just wouldn’t quit. Hollywood promised to make a movie and the media, too, were hungry for heroes.” That story was quickly exposed as a fraud. This Post story, its reporters assert, is far more extensively researched: “The Post interviewed dozens of people, including associates of Lynch’s family in West Virginia; Iraqi doctors, nurses and civilian witnesses in Nasiriyah; and U.S. intelligence and military officials in Washington, three of whom have knowledge of a weeks-long Army investigation into the matter. The result is a second, more thorough but inconclusive cut at history.” At least one similarity with the original story remains, the reporters acknowledge: most of the US officials who spoke to the reporters insisted that their identities not be revealed.
The Real Story of the Capture - According to military officials, Lynch indeed tried to fight her assailants, but her weapon jammed. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed. Her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, fell prey to an ambush outside Nasiriyah after getting lost. Army investigators believe that Lynch and her colleagues became lost because they were not informed that the column they had been following was rerouted. Lynch was riding in a Humvee when it crashed into a jackknified US truck. She was severely injured in the crash, including multiple broken bones and compression of the spine. The other four soldiers in the Humvee were killed or mortally wounded. She was captured by Iraqi guerrillas. In what may be a continuation of the government’s attempt to inflate the tale, two US officials familiar with the Army investigation say that Lynch was mistreated by her captors but refuse to give details.
Eyewitness Account - Sahib Khudher, an Iraqi farmer, saw a large US convoy of trucks, trailers, wreckers, and Humvees pass by his house before dawn on March 23. A few hours later, he saw trucks again pass his house, this time fighting off an ad hoc assault force of Iraqi irregulars in pickup trucks. The Iraqis were firing into the US vehicles and at their tires. “There was shooting, shooting everywhere,” Khudher recalls. “There were accidents, too. Crash sounds. You could see and hear the vehicles hitting each other. And yelling. Screaming. I could hear English.” Khudher was witnessing the tail end of the 507th Maintenance Company’s convoy, 18 Humvees, trailers, and tow trucks. Most of the soldiers were part of a Patriot missile maintenance crew.
Missed Route Change - The 507th missed a route change and quickly became separated from their larger 3rd Infantry unit. Because of truck breakdowns, 18 vehicles of the 507th split off from the rest of their convoy, and became entirely separated. Lynch was with these vehicles, which entered Nasiriyah around 6:30 a.m. Unfamiliar with the streets, the commander became lost, and eventually ordered the convoy to attempt to turn around and backtrack. By that point, around 7 a.m., the streets were filling with Iraqis, and the commander ordered the troops to lock and load their weapons.
Assault - As the convoy attempted to drive into central Nasiriyah, Iraqi forces launched an attack. The assailants were both uniformed soldiers and civilians, according to accounts by the American survivors of the assault. The attackers fired on the convoy with small arms, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. The situation worsened for the Americans when an Iraqi T-55 tank appeared, and the assailants positioned sandbags, debris, and cars to block the convoy’s path. The senior military officer later described the battle as “very harrowing, very intense.” Lynch may have been one of the soldiers returning fire, but she may not have gotten off a single round: “We don’t know how many rounds she got off,” says the official. “Her weapon jammed severely.” While details are unclear, it is believed that Lynch’s vehicle broke down, and she clambered into a soft-top Humvee driven by Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit. Another occupant, Master Sergeant Robert Dowdy, pulled two more soldiers into the Humvee. Lynch rode the transmission hump between the two seat. The senior military officer says that Dowdy was encouraging his four soldiers “to get into the fight” as well as “trying to get vehicles to move and getting soldiers out of one broken-down vehicle and into another.” The four soldiers in the Humvee “had their weapons at the ready and their seat belts off,” says the senior officer. “We assume they were firing back.” (Priest, Booth, and Schmidt 6/17/2003) (Lynch will later confirm that her weapon and others’ were jammed with sand and useless.) (Time 11/9/2003)
Collision - During the firefight, a US tractor-trailer with a flatbed swerved around an Iraqi dump truck and jackknifed. As the Humvee sped towards the overturned tractor-trailer, it was struck on the driver’s side by a rocket-propelled grenade. Piestewa lost control of the Humvee and plowed into the trailer. The senior defense official calls the collision “catastrophic.” Dowdy was killed instantly, as were the two soldiers to either side of Lynch. Both she and Piestewa were severely injured. Lynch’s arm and both legs were crushed; bone fragments tore through her skin. Khudher recalls seeing a Humvee crash into a truck. Watching from a safe distance, he saw “two American women, one dark-skinned, one light-skinned, pulled from the Humvee. I think the light one was dead. The dark-skinned one was hurt.” The light-skinned woman was apparently Lynch. She and Piestewa, who was Native American, were both captured by Iraqi guerrillas.
Garbled, Contradictory Reports - Understandably, the reports of the ambush in the hours after the attack were garbled, contradictory, and confused. Arabic-speaking interpreters at the National Security Agency intercepted Iraqi transmissions referring to “an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them,” according to a senior military officer who read the top-secret intelligence report when it came in. Some of the Iraqis at the scene said she had emptied her weapon at her assailants. Over the next few days, numerous reports are received by the commanders at US CENTCOM in Doha, Qatar. Some of the reports are relayed Iraqi transmissions concerning a female soldier. The stories are contradictory. Some say she died in battle. Others say she was wounded by shrapnel. Others say she was shot and stabbed during the firefight. The only ones to receive these reports were generals, intelligence officers, and Washington policymakers, all of whom must be cleared to read the most sensitive information the US government possesses. The initial tale of Lynch’s “fight to the death” came from these high-level officials. (Priest, Booth, and Schmidt 6/17/2003) Another possible explanation later given forth was that the Army had intercepted Iraqi radio chatter about a yellow-haired soldier from Lynch’s unit who fought bravely before falling; that soldier was later identified as Sergeant Donald Walters. Interpreters had confused the Arabic pronouns for “he” and “she” and thought the radio transmissions were about Lynch. (Lipsky 12/14/2003)
Initial Treatment - Lynch and Piestewa were taken to a small military hospital in Nasiriyah, where both are initially treated for their wounds. That hospital is nothing more than a burned-out ruin today, but on the morning of Lynch’s captivity, it was the scene of frenzied activity, overwhelmed with Iraqi soldiers and irregulars fleeing, fighting, and bleeding from wounds. US soldiers were coming in from Kuwait in heavy numbers. The hospital’s director, Adnan Mushafafawi, remembers a policeman bringing in two female American soldiers about 10 a.m. Both were unconscious, he remembers, severely wounded and suffering from shock. According to their dog tags, they were Lynch and Piestewa. “Miss Lori had bruises all over her face,” he remembers. “She was bleeding from the eyes. A severe head wound.” Piestewa died soon after arriving at the hospital. Though Piestewa may have been shot, Mushafafawi says, Lynch had been neither shot nor stabbed. Mushafafawi and medical staffers cut away Lynch’s uniform, lay her on a gurney and began working on her. She had major fractures of her arm and both legs, and a minor head wound. They sutured the head wound, and gave her blood and intravenous fluids. After X-raying her fractures, they applied splints and plaster casts. “If we had left her without treatment, she would have died,” Mushafafawi says. Lynch briefly regained consciousness during the treatment, but was disoriented. “She was very scared,” he says. “We reassured her that she would be safe now.” She resisted having Mushafafawi reset her leg, he remembers. Two or three hours later, Lynch was sent to Nasirayah’s main civilian facility, Saddam Hussein General Hospital. Mushafafawi believed at the time that his hospital would be attacked by US military forces (it was overrun two days later). He had both Lynch and Piestewa’s body sent to the civilian hospital. Mushafafawi says he does not know what happened to either of the soldiers between the time they were captured and when they were brought to his hospital.
Hospitalized - Lynch arrived at Saddam Hussein hospital that afternoon in a military ambulance. The doctors there were shocked to find a severely injured, nearly naked American woman, wearing heavy casts, beneath a sheet. Hospital officials say that during her time there, she was given the best possible care they could provide. They do not believe it was possible for Iraqi agents to have abused her while at the hospital. A member of Iraq’s intelligence service was posted outside the door to her room, but the staff never saw anyone mistreat her, nor did they see evidence of any mistreatment. Her condition was grave, the doctors and nurses recall, unconscious and obviously in shock. The hospital was overloaded with casualties and barely staffed; only a dozen doctors from a staff of 60 were on duty. Many nurses had not come to work either. The roads were unsafe, the electricity came and went, medical supplies were stretched thin, and casualties kept pouring in. “It was substandard care, by American standards, we know this, okay?” says Dr. Harith al-Houssona. “But Jessica got the best we could offer.” Lynch began to improve after several days of treatment. She was moved from the emergency room to an empty cardiac care unit, where she had her own room, and was tended to by two female nurses. She was in terrible pain, and was given powerful drugs. Though she was hungry, she was leery of the food being offered her, insisting that the food containers be opened in front of her before she would eat. Her mental state fluctuated. Sometimes she joked and smiled with her doctors and nurses, sometimes she would weep. “She didn’t want to be left alone and she didn’t want strangers to care for her,” Dr. Anmar Uday recalls. “One time, she asked me, ‘Why are you standing in front of me? Are you gong to hurt me?’ We said no, we’re here to help you.” Her primary nurse, Khalida Shinah, weeps herself when describing Lynch’s misery. Shinah recalls singing her to sleep and rubbing talc into her shoulders. Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, an orthopedic surgeon, says that there was more than mere sympathy and camaraderie responsible for the decision to give Lynch the best care they could. Everyone knew that the Americans would soon come for Lynch, he says, and “we wanted to show the Americans that we are human beings.… She was more important at that moment than Saddam Hussein.” Besides, he adds, “You could not help but feeling sorry for her. A young girl. An American. A prisoner. We did our best. Believe me, she was the only orthopedic surgery I performed.” The hospital staff were not the only ones interested in ensuring the Americans would be happy with Lynch’s treatment. At the time, the hospital had between 50 and 100 Iraqi fighters in or around the site at any one time, though the number steadily dwindled as US forces came ever closer. Senior Iraqi officials worked and lived out of the basement, clinics, and the doctors’ residence halls and offices. They all knew the Americans were coming, al-Houssona recalls, “and toward the end, they were most worried about saving themselves.”
Suspicious Wounds - Khafaji was suspicious of Lynch’s wounds. He had trouble believing they came from an auto accident, no matter how severe. The fractures were on both sides of her body, and there was no glass embedded in her wounds. US military sources believe most if not all the fractures could have been caused by the accident. Khafaji says, “[M]aybe a car accident, or maybe [her captors] broke her bones with rifle butts or by stomping on her legs. I don’t know. They know and Jessica knows. I can only guess.”
Interrogation - Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, a lawyer, says he learned about Lynch’s capture on March 27, when he went to visit his wife Iman, a nurse at the hospital. Al-Rehaief saw numerous Fedayeen in the “traditional black ninja-style uniforms that covered everything but their eyes,” as well as “high army officials there.” Al-Rehaief says one of his friends, a doctor, told him of Lynch. Curious, he peered through a glass panel into her room and, he says, “saw a large man in black looming over a bed that contained a small bandaged woman with blond hair.” The man wore epaulets on his shirt, indicating that he was a Fedayeen officer. Al-Rehaief recalls, “He appeared to be questioning the woman through a translator. Then I saw him slap her—first with the palm of his hand, then with the back of his hand.” After the Fedayeen officer left, al-Rehaief slipped into Lynch’s room and told her he would help. He left the hospital and sought out US soldiers, soon finding a group of US Marines. He told them about Lynch. (The Marines corroborate what they know of al-Rehaief’s story.) They sent him back to the hospital several times to map it out and routes in and out of the hospital. He also counts the number of Iraqi troops there.
Fabrication? - While the hospital doctors and staffers believe al-Rehaief did tell the Marines about Lynch, they dispute other portions of his story. There is no nurse named Iman at the hospital, they say, and no nurse married to a lawyer. “This is something we would know,” says one nurse. Al-Houssona believes little of al-Rehaief’s story. “Never happened,” he says. As for the Fedayeen slapping Lynch in her hospital bed, “That’s some Hollywood crap you’d tell the Americans.” Al-Houssona believes al-Rehaief embellished his story for his listeners. Al-Rehaief and his wife were taken to a military camp in Kuwait, and later received political asylum. He now lives in northern Virginia, where he is working on a book for HarperCollins and a television movie for NBC about his version of events (see April 10, 2003 and After).
Task Force 20 - The Special Operations unit given the assignment of rescuing Lynch, Task Force 20, is a covert Special Ops unit assigned the highest priority tasks. There was a larger reason than Lynch for that unit to be interested in the hospital: pre-mission briefings indicated that the hospital had been repeatedly visited by Ali Hassan Majeed, the infamous “Chemical Ali,” in recent days. Ground sources and images from Predator drones indicate that the hospital might be a military command post. There was every reason for Task Force 20 to go into the hospital heavily armed and taking full precautions, or as one Special Ops officer puts it, “loaded for bear.” A force of Marines, with tanks and armored personnel carriers, was ordered to mount a feint into Nasiriyah to draw off Iraqi forces near the hospital.
Rescue - Around 1 a.m. on April 1, commandos in blacked-out Black Hawk helicopters, protected by AC-130 gunships, entered the hospital grounds. Marines established an exterior perimeter, and Army Rangers set up a second perimeter just outside the hospital walls. These forces were fired upon from adjacent buildings, military sources say, though the fire was light. Commandos burst into the hospital, set off explosives meant to disorient anyone inside, and made for Lynch’s room. Uday says that the doctors and staffers fled to the X-ray room, where they might be more secure. Though the soldiers quickly burst into the X-ray room, no shots were fired and no resistance was offered. “It was like a ‘Rambo’ movie,” Uday recalls. “But we were not Rambo. We just waited to be told what to do.” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, who gave American reporters video footage of the rescue mission, says, “There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were firefights outside of the building, getting in and out.” The commandos found Lynch in a private bed, lying on the hospital’s only bed used to ease bedsores. A male nurse in a white jacket was with her. One of the soldiers called out, “Jessica Lynch, we’re the United States soldiers and we’re here to protect you and take you home.” She answered, “I’m an American soldier, too.” The commandos find “ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post,” Brooks says. It is unclear if the hospital had indeed been used as any sort of military headquarters, but it is certain that the last of the Iraqi soldiers had fled the day before.
Recovering the Dead - The commandos retrieve two American bodies from the morgue. Staff members lead soldiers outside, where seven other soldiers were buried in shallow graves. They tell the soldiers that they buried the seven because the morgue’s faltering refrigeration couldn’t slow their decomposition. All nine bodies are from Lynch’s unit. Navy SEALs dug up the bodies with their hands, military officials say.
Propaganda Opportunity - Within hours of the rescue, a second contingent of US tanks and trucks rolled up to the hospital. They were not there to attack anyone. Instead, CENTCOM’s public affairs office in Qatar had seen an opportunity. “We wanted to make sure we got whatever visuals were available,” a public affairs officer involved in the operation recalls. The rescue force had photographed the rescue, and Special Forces had provided video footage of Iraqi border posts being obliterated to the news media. That video footage had received extensive airplay in the US. This, the public affairs officers think, could be much bigger. Lieutenant Colonel John Robinson, a CENTCOM public affairs officer, says, “We let them know, if possible we wanted to get it, we’d like to have” the video. “We were hoping we would have good visuals. We knew it would be the hottest thing of the day. There was not an intent to talk it down or embellish it because we didn’t need to. It was an awesome story.” The Lynch story, if properly presented, could be a boon to the military’s public relations. Stories of US troops bogged down on the way to Baghdad and killed by the dozens in vicious firefights could be erased from the news broadcasts by a feel-good story of heroism and camaraderie. According to one colonel who dealt with the media in the days after the rescue, the story “took on a life of its own. Reporters seem to be reporting on each other’s information. The rescue turned into a Hollywood concept.” No one at CENTCOM ever explains how the details of Lynch’s “heroic resistance,” “emptying her gun” into her assailants, and finally “falling from multiple gunshot wounds” were given to reporters. (Priest, Booth, and Schmidt 6/17/2003)
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, one of the writers of the exhaustively researched and far more accurate account of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s ambush and capture in Iraq (see June 17, 2003), is interviewed on National Public Radio. Priest tries to explain why the original version of events as chronicled by the Post (see April 3, 2003) and other media outlets were so luridly incorrect: interviewer Neal Conan says that Priest and her colleagues now know “that were caused in the Humvee accident during the attack by Iraqi troops and the fact that probably Jessica Lynch was not the second coming of Audie Murphy, not that anybody should have expected her to be that. But nevertheless, The Washington Post and National Public Radio and many other news outlets reported a very heroic version of the story. How did that come to be?” Priest says that Lynch and her fellow soldiers indeed performed like heroes, fighting for their lives against an unsuspected and ferocious onslaught.
Relied on Presumably Credible Sources - According to Priest, she and two other Post reporters, relied on “people that we believe are credible and that have access to the sort of information that you would rely on in the very first instance to figure this out, which means intelligence information.… Three of us, in fact, gathered the information that made our story and which said she might have been shot and stabbed, and she fired off all her rounds. And these were people who we trusted over the months and years that we’ve dealt with them, and they were reading from classified, in most cases, intelligence reports. They were initial reports from the field that were both intercepted or eavesdropped conversations with Iraqi soldiers in which these soldiers were talking to one another through their cell phones or radio systems saying that there was a white female who was acting very brave and fighting them. And we went back several times to those sources and repeated—to find out the reliability of that. They thought it was pretty good, although still initial. Same with the stabbing and wounding. You were getting a lot of eyewitnesses on the ground as well. Some of them we quoted in our story, too, her bones had been so badly shattered in some cases that they were actually protruding out of the skin, and so there were some blood marks on her skin that you would have been able to see if you had gotten up close. And perhaps that’s why some people thought she was shot, but it could be other reasons as well.” Priest says “the fog of war and the fog of reporting during war” often causes inaccurate reporting. She does not believe that the initial reporting “was somehow staged and managed by the Pentagon… ”
Filming of Rescue Routine - As for the filming of the rescue by the covert commando unit, Task Force 20, that entered the hospital and took Lynch out, Priest says that all such units “carry cameras with them wherever they go, in part to learn lessons for themselves, but in this case they made some of that footage available. And as one public relations officer from Central Command told me, they were eager to get that film. It was edited when it came to them. When they saw it they thought it told a certain part of the story. And then, as he said, it was such an awesome story that we didn’t need to embellish it, which it was.”
Pentagon Allowed Inaccurate Media Stories to Spread - Priest says that she believes the Pentagon did not correct the story once it was reported because “it was such a positive story for them, and it was the media’s mistake, if you want to read it that way, for going with unreliable information, or information that turned out to be unreliable. So they may not have wanted to really correct the record in that regard. They did say some things that should have indicated to us that not everything was quite as we reported, but they usually said them on background. They never officially came out.” (Conan 6/17/2003)
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, formerly head of the US Central Command, criticizes the Bush administration’s occupation strategy for Iraq, saying that the administration has never put together a coherent strategy, never created a plan for achieving its goals, and has not allocated the resources needed to achieve those goals. “There is no strategy or mechanism for putting the pieces together,” he says, and so “we’re in danger of failing.” Speaking to several hundred Marine and Navy officers and others, Zinni, who was badly wounded in Vietnam, says: “My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies, and we saw the sacrifice. I ask you, is it happening again?… We can’t go on breaking our military and doing things like we’re doing now.” A focus of his criticism is the choice by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to have the Defense Department, and not the State Department, oversee postwar efforts in Iraq. “Why the hell would the Department of Defense be the organization in our government that deals with the reconstruction of Iraq?” he asks. “Doesn’t make sense.” Another area of criticism is the Bush administration’s cavalier treatment of the United Nations, particularly in failing to secure a UN resolution that several nations said was a prerequisite for their contributing to the peacekeeping force (see October 21, 2002, October 27, 2002, November 8, 2002, December 31, 2002, February 5, 2003, and March 25, 2003). “We certainly blew past the UN,” he says. “Why, I don’t know. Now we’re going back hat in hand.” Zinni is given a warm reception by his audience, some of whom buy recordings of his remarks to share with friends and fellow soldiers. (Ricks 9/5/2003)
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” (GlobalSecurity (.org) 3/13/2004)
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 3/13/2004)
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” (GlobalSecurity (.org) 3/13/2004)
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). (Eskow 8/2/2007; Goff 8/9/2007)
Ron Synovitz, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL), reports on “how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy” Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) employs in Afghanistan.
Report Relies upon Department of Defense Sources - Synovitz appears to base his observations of the “one commando team” solely on audio clips provided by a US Department of Defense (DoD) video; an undocumented description of same; the fact that an unidentified RFE/RFL correspondent “saw the team leave the Kandahar Air Field in camouflaged humvees,” bearing the DoD video cameramen; unnamed “US officials;” and a press conference in Kabul with the US military’s chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. It is unclear if the eyewitness to the team’s departure is Synovitz himself or some other RFE/RFL reporter. What the article does clearly imply is 1) this OMS-participant team is representative of an overall well-coordinated and carefully planned strategy 2) the strategy, using “unconventional warfare” tactics, has the potential to prevail against any remaining “terrorist” threat in a wide-sweeping area 3) the strategy underlies a “new” operation, OMS, but continues the US Department of Defense’s military success, a success rooted in the effective strategy.
Article Highlights OMS Break with Tradition - Reporting on Hilferty’s description of the “counter-terrorism tactics designed to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” the article points out that, as distinguished from the use of “methods of conventional warfare,” in which units by the thousands amass “on the ground”—OMS combat forces—at times consisting of US Special Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers; at others, of US, Marines, Navy SEAL commandos, and CIA paramilitary officers—carry out “search and destroy” missions in small “commando teams,” operating along a large swath of Afghanistan’s interior as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to seek out enemy fighters and their weapons hidden in the mountains. For OMS, “there are no Bradley armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks,” as used in the Iraq war, but rather, armored humvees and “fast-moving military trucks,” Special Forces employ all-terrain vehicles in desert regions.
Hilferty Touts Conventional Support for New Strategy - Still, Hilferty claims these departures from tradition are supported with the continuation of “patrols and vehicle checkpoints.” He also notes the “close air support” by “fighter jets, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and A-10 Warthog attack planes,” at the ready to intervene if OMS commandos run into problems. Hilferty touts this air support as available “24 hours a day circling overhead, ready to assist coalition forces.” In smaller airborne operations that military planners refer to as “heliborne insertion,” Chinook helicopters transport commando teams into the heart of the mountain posts guerrilla fighters claim. All of these tactics are custom-fitted to Afghanistan’s battlefield, primarily a mountainous terrain not well-served by a “heavy, mechanized force,” and are conducted simultaneously, so that the sum of the parts is what, mission by mission, adds up.
Article Echoes US Central Command's Focus on Quantity - Synovitz’s approach to reporting on the new offensive echoes that of US Central Command’s in its focus on discrete incidents, itemizing specific weapons recovered or enemy combatants killed. Synovitz contends that the unconventional nature of the conduct of warfare in Afghanistan calls for reporting “a stream of isolated incidents—like the announcement today by Hilferty that US-led soldiers had killed three suspected Taliban members this weekend while searching a cave in Qalat, in Zabul province.” (Synovitz 3/15/2004)
Pat Tillman Death Investigations Will Bolster Critics' View of OMS Strategy - Critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reliance on what former solider and journalist Stan Goff will call “the metrics of quantification,” exemplified by OMS in its design and in reporting on it, will argue that, as with the “body counts” former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara boasted to claim success in Vietnam, much publicized hauls from “search and destroy” missions amount to little in terms of valid results. Further, promised support from conventional combat operations often does not materialize. For instance, Goff will point to a mission botched on several fronts as causing Pat Tillman’s death near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (seeApril 23, 2004 and April 22, 2004). Regimental chain of command denied Tillman’s Ranger platoon the use of a helicopter to airlift a disabled humvee that became a link in a series of foul-ups leading to the “friendly fire” killing of Tillman and an Afghan Militia soldier while on patrol in OMS. In adddition, command denied the beleaguered Rangers air support in the “search and destroy” mission Tillman’s platoon was forced to conduct as night fell. Command’s urgency that there be “boots on the ground by dusk” stemmed from a need to fulfill the very sort of “checklist” Rumsfeld offered to document military progress. (Goff 6/23/2006; Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006; Goff 8/9/2007)
Coalition Joint Task Force-7, an Army command in Afghanistan, is still operating under rules of interrogation issued by CENTCOM commander General Ricardo Sanchez in September 2003 and rescinded in October 2003 (see October 12, 2003). This information comes from a report issued by Brigadier General Richard Formica (see November 2004) and from documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (see July 10, 2006). The September 2003 rules allowed for the use of attack dogs, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and “environmental manipulation”—subjecting prisoners to extremes of heat and cold. In February 2004, a JTF-7 officer asked in a memo: “Can you verify that this [the September Sanchez memo] is a valid, signed policy? If not, can you send me (or steer me toward) the current policy?” The officer received a reply consisting of another copy of the September memo. On May 16, 2004, unit commanders become aware that the September memo had been superceded by reading news reports. (American Civil Liberties Union 7/10/2006) According to the Defense Department, the September memo was “erroneously” provided to JTF-7. The Defense Department credits the Formica investigation for finding the error, which, Defense officials say, was “corrected immediately.… In the months between the policy’s creation and the investigation, some interrogations had been conducted using five unapproved interrogation methods, but none had resulted in abuse.” The official will note: “That’s the important point—we found [the error] and looked into it. When we discovered the error, we corrected it immediately.” (Wood 6/17/2006)
In a talk given at UCLA’s Center for International Relations, retired General Anthony Zinni, the former commander of the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM - see April 17, 2003 and After and January 2003), discusses his early planning for the overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the inevitable chaos that would ensue, in plans called “Desert Crossing” (see April-July 1999). Zinni began working on the plans shortly after 1998’s “Desert Fox” bombing campaign (see December 16-19, 1998).
Plans to Overthrow, No Plans to Reconstruct - He recalls: “[I]t struck me then that we had a plan to defeat Saddam’s army, but we didn’t have a plan to rebuild Iraq. And so I asked the different agencies of government to come together to talk about reconstruction planning for Iraq.… I thought we ought to look at political reconstruction, economic reconstruction, security reconstruction, humanitarian need, services, and infrastructure development. We met in Washington, DC. We called the plan, and we gamed it out in the scenario, Desert Crossing.”
Many of Subsequent Problems Envisioned - Zinni says that he and his team envisioned many of the problems encountered after the March 2003 invasion and subsequent toppling of the Iraqi government: “The first meeting surfaced all the problems that have exactly happened now. This was 1999. And when I took it back and looked at it, I said, we need a plan. Not all of this is a military responsibility. I went back to State Department, to the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Department of Commerce, and others and said, all right, how about you guys taking part of the plan. We need a plan in addition to the war plan for the reconstruction. Not interested. Would not look at it.” Zinni, he recalls, decided to have the plans created himself, “because I was convinced nobody in Washington was going to plan for it, and we, the military, would get stuck with it.”
Zinni Plans Ignored by Bush Planners - Before the invasion, he recalls, he recommended that the military planners go back and look at his plans: “When it looked like we were going in [to Iraq], I called back down to CENTCOM and said, ‘You need to dust off Desert Crossing.’ They said, ‘What’s that? Never heard of it.’ So in a matter of just a few years it was gone. The corporate memory. And in addition I was told, ‘We’ve been told not to do any of the planning. It would all be done in the Pentagon.’” Zinni’s original plans called for a civilian occupation authority with offices in all 18 Iraqi provinces; the current Coalition Provisional Authority only has one set of offices, in Baghdad’s Green Zone. And Zinni’s plans called for around 400,000 troops, instead of the 160,000 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved. (John Prados 11/4/2006)
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni was the chief of the US Central Command until 2000, and, until just before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration’s special envoy to the Middle East. Now he has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war efforts in Iraq. Zinni gives an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes, in part to promote his new biography, Battle Ready, co-authored by famed war novelist Tom Clancy.
'Dereliction of Duty' among Senior Pentagon Officials - Zinni says that senior officials at the Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down, are guilty of what he calls dereliction of duty, and he believes it is time for “heads to roll.” Zinni tells correspondent Steve Kroft: “There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it’s time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it’s been a failure.” In his book, Zinni writes: “In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence, and corruption.… I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning.”
'The Wrong War at the Wrong Time' - Zinni calls Iraq “the wrong war at the wrong time,” and with the wrong strategy. Before the invasion, Zinni told Congress (see October 31, 2002): “This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don’t feel it needs to be done now.” The generals never wanted this war, Zinni says, but the civilians in the Pentagon and the White House did. “I can’t speak for all generals, certainly,” he says. “But I know we felt that this situation was contained (see Summer 2002-2003). Saddam was effectively contained.… And I think most of the generals felt, let’s deal with this one at a time. Let’s deal with this threat from terrorism, from al-Qaeda.”
Much Larger Force Required - Zinni was heavily involved in planning for any invasion of Iraq, going back to at least 1999 (see April-July 1999). Zinni always envisioned any such invasion as being implemented with enough ground forces to get the job done quickly and cleanly. Rumsfeld had different ideas—the invasion could be carried off with fewer troops and more high-tech weaponry. Zinni wanted around 300,000 troops: “We were much in line with General Shinseki’s view. We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood.” Would a larger force have made a difference? Kroft asks. Zinni replies, “I think it’s critical in the aftermath, if you’re gonna go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country.” Rumsfeld should have anticipated the level and ferocity of violence that erupted in the aftermath of the toppling of the Hussein government, but, Zinni says, he did not, and worse, he ignored or belittled those such as Shinseki and a number of foreign allies who warned him of the possible consequences. Instead, Zinni notes, Rumsfeld relied on, among other sources, fabricated intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (see September 19-20, 2001).
'Seat of the Pants Operation' - The entire reconstruction effort was, in Zinni’s mind, a seat-of-the-pants affair. “As best I could see, I saw a pickup team, very small, insufficient in the Pentagon with no detailed plans that walked onto the battlefield after the major fighting stopped and tried to work it out in the huddle,” he says, “in effect to create a seat-of-the-pants operation on reconstructing a country.” Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer is “a great American who’s serving his country, I think, with all the kind of sacrifice and spirit you could expect. But he has made mistake after mistake after mistake.” Bremer’s mistakes include “Disbanding the army (see May 23, 2003). De-Baathifying (see May 16, 2003), down to a level where we removed people that were competent and didn’t have blood on their hands that you needed in the aftermath of reconstruction—alienating certain elements of that society.” Zinni reserves most of the blame for the Pentagon: “I blame the civilian leadership of the Pentagon directly.”
Heads Should Roll, Beginning with Rumsfeld's - Zinni continues: “But regardless of whose responsibility I think it is, somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.” The first one to go, Zinni says, is Rumsfeld: “Well, it starts with at the top. If you’re the secretary of defense and you’re responsible for that.”
Neoconservatives at Fault - Next up are Rumsfeld’s advisers, whom Kroft identifies as the cadre of neoconservatives “who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel.” Zinni says: “Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.” Kroft identifies that group as including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle; National Security Council member Elliott Abrams; and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Zinni calls them political ideologues who have hijacked US policy in Iraq: “I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody—everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.” Like so many others who criticized them, Zinni recalls, he was targeted for personal counterattacks. After publishing one article, he says: “I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it.”
Fundamental Conceptual Flaws - Zinni says the neoconservatives believed they could remake the Middle East through the use of American military might, beginning with Iraq. Instead, the US is viewed in the region as “the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world.”
Changing Course - Zinni has a number of recommendations. He advises President Bush and his senior officials to reach out much more strongly to the United Nations, and to US allies, and secure the UN’s backing. Do these other countries “want a say in political reconstruction? Do they want a piece of the pie economically? If that’s the cost, fine. What they’re gonna pay for up front is boots on the ground and involvement in sharing the burden.” Many more troops are needed on the ground, and not just American troops, he says, enough to seal off the borders, protect the road networks.
Exit Strategy - Zinni says that planning for an exit is necessary because it is inevitable that the US will want to withdraw, and that time will come sooner rather than later. “There is a limit,” he says. “I think it’s important to understand what the limit is. Now do I think we are there yet?”
Speaking Out - He is speaking out, he says, because it is his duty to do so: “It is part of your duty. Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else. And that’s the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning, and troops were dying as a result. I can’t think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what’s the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that’s getting just as many troops killed?” (CBS News 5/21/2004)
The Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of torture methods against detainees in US custody (see December 2, 2002) rendered such methods legal for use in Afghanistan. According to the lawyer: “[T]he methodologies approved for [Guantanamo]… would appear to me to be legal interrogation processes. [The secretary of defense] had approved them. The general counsel [Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes] had approved them.… I believe it is fair to say the procedures approved for Guantanamo were legal for Afghanistan.” (Levin 4/21/2009)
A secret witness in the court-martial of a US soldier charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004) says that the soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, disregarded interrogation rules so casually that he wrote a memo warning his CIA superiors. The witness testifies in open court, but is shielded behind a curtain to protect his identity. (Defense lawyers accidentally exposed the witness’s ties to the CIA during previous questioning.) The testimony is conducted in public after much legal wrangling, with lawyers from the Colorado Springs Gazette and other media outlets insisting that the witness’s testimony be conducted in open court. The witness says Welshofer, accused of smothering the prisoner, did not seem to care. “He said he was pretty sure they were breaking those rules every day.” Earlier witnesses have testified that the techniques used by Welshofer—which included covering the prisoner’s head with a bag, wrapping electrical cord around the bag, sitting on the man’s chest, and covering his mouth—were forbidden by order of CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Another witness, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Sonnek, a Green Beret assigned to interrogations at the makeshift prison near the Syrian border, says that two days before Mowhoush’s death, he witnessed Welshofer bringing CIA and Iraqi paramilitary fighters in to witness his interrogation of the prisoner, which Welshofer called an implementation of the accepted method called “fear-up,” in which an interrogator attempts to terrify a prisoner into divulging information. Welshofer, along with the CIA officials and Iraqi fighters, questioned Mowhoush, and interrupted the questions with insults and slaps. Instead of cowering in fear, Mowhoush became enraged and broke free from his plastic handcuffs. Sonnek says he wrestled Mowhoush to the ground, and everyone in the room joined in beating and kicking Mowhoush. Sonnek testifies that Mowhoush was able to walk unaided back to his cell; other witnesses have said that it took five soldiers to carry him back to it. (Foster 1/17/2006; Roeder 1/19/2006; Foster 1/24/2006) Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Counterterrorism expert Micah Zenko will later claim that in February 2006, an unnamed senior civilian official serving at US Central Command tells him that he has been disappointed to learn the search for Osama bin Laden is being worked at a lower level than he would have suspected. Central Command, which covers the US military’s operations in the Middle East and South Asia, has other issues that are deemed more important. (Zenko 5/3/2011)
A briefing by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Iraq is sliding towards a complete breakdown of order. The briefing features a chart used by the military as, in the words of New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, “a barometer of civil conflict.” Gordon describes the slide as providing “a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.” The briefing was prepared by CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate, overseen by Brigadier General John Custer. The slide contains a color-coded bar chart titled “Index of Civil Conflict,” which tracks the sharp rise in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in February (see February 22, 2006), and documents a subsequent rise in violence despite US efforts to contain conflicts in and around Baghdad. Gordon describes the chart as tracking, among other factors, “the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures,” and not so much more traditional factors like “the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.” The chart shows Iraq moving quickly away from “peace,” the ideal condition on the far left of the chart, to a point labeled “chaos” on the right side. Gordon notes, “As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.” A CENTCOM official says, “Ever since the February attack on the Shiite mosque in Samarra, it has been closer to the chaos side than the peace side.” (Gordon 11/1/2006)
An Army Times editorial says that to tell the “hard bruising truth” of the war in Iraq is to conclude that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must resign. The editorial observes, “One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and… Rumsfeld: ‘mission accomplished’ (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008), the insurgency is ‘in its last throes” (see Summer 2005), and ‘back off,’ we know what we’re doing (see May 2004), are a few choice examples.” Some retired and active generals and military leaders are now beginning to speak out (see April 13-14, 2006, April 14-16, 2006, April 16, 2006, and October 5, 2006). In August, US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid predicted the possibility of all-out civil war in Iraq (see August 3, 2006). And in mid-October, the New York Times reported on a confidential CENTCOM briefing that called the situation in Iraq “critical,” and sliding towards “chaos” (see October 18, 2006). The Army Times editorial observes that “despite the best [US] efforts… the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.” Bush has vowed to stick by Rumsfeld for the remainder of his second term. The Army Times calls that decision “a mistake.” It explains: “It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.… Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.… Donald Rumsfeld must go.” (Army Times 11/6/2006) The Department of Defense responds to an advance copy of the Army Times editorial a day before its official publication. The editorial is “inaccurate and misleading,” and took Abizaid’s words “out of context.” The Pentagon claims that Rumsfeld has always presented what it calls a “balanced” picture of Iraq, and has never engaged in “rosy scenarios” to mislead the public (see April 11, 2003, April 12, 2003, Summer 2005, June 25, 2005, November 1, 2005, February 17, 2006, and April 18, 2006). It goes on to call the editorial little more than a rehash of old criticisms, and chides the writer(s) for “insulting military commanders” and “attack[ing]” Rumsfeld. (US Department of Defense 11/5/2006) Rumsfeld resigns on the same day as the editorial appears (see November 6-December 18, 2006).
Admiral William Fallon, named to replace General John Abizaid as head of the US Central Command (Centcom) for the Middle East and Southwest Asia (see March 16, 2007), reportedly privately opposes the proposed addition of a third US aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf, and vows that there will be no war against Iran as long as he is chief of Centcom. Fallon’s opposition to a military strike against Iran results in a shift in the Bush administration away from its aggressive, threatening posture towards Iran, and instead moves the administration’s rhetoric incrementally towards diplomatic engagement with that nation. Historian and author Gareth Porter writes, “That shift, for which no credible explanation has been offered by administration officials, suggests that Fallon’s resistance to a crucial deployment was a major factor in the intra-administration struggle over policy toward Iran.” Fallon’s resistance to further naval buildups in the Gulf apparently surprises Bush officials; in January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly suggested that Fallon’s appointment gives greater emphasis on the military option for Iran. Gates said in January, “As you look at the range of options available to the United States, the use of naval and air power, potentially, it made sense to me for all those reasons for Fallon to have the job.” A third carrier group deployment would have pushed the US naval presence in the region to the same level as it was during the last months of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Apparently, the deployment of a third carrier group was envisioned as a means of pressuring the Iranian government, in a plan to engage in a series of operations that would appear to Tehran to be war preparations much like those that presaged the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). But Fallon’s opposition scotched those plans. Fallon recently told an informed source that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.… You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.” And Fallon indicated he is not alone: “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” Fallon’s position weakens the belligerent posture adopted by Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides, and strengthens that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is now preparing to make high-level diplomatic contacts with Iranian officials. (Porter 5/15/2007)
Admiral William J. Fallon takes over the United States Central Command (Centcom), replacing the retiring General John P. Abizaid. Fallon, a decorated Vietnam veteran pilot, formerly led the US Pacific Command (Pacom). Fallon now commands the US forces throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa, and is in charge of strategic and tactical operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon is the first naval officer to command Centcom. Fallon was nominated for the position by President Bush in January, and was easily confirmed by the Senate in February. (Baker 3/16/2007)
Fallon In Place to Oversee Strike on Iran? - Many observers see Fallon’s new command as a sign that the Bush administration is preparing for war with Iran. Fallon’s position is not a promotion, but a lateral transfer—as commander of Pacom, he actually commanded more forces than he does at Centcom, and Fallon will not have the direct control of the forces in Iraq, which remain under the day-to-day command of General David Petraeus. Fallon is a naval officer, with no real experience in commanding large numbers of ground troops, but a great deal of experience in commanding and deploying carrier groups. Centcom’s primary responsibility is on the ground, battling insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Nation’s Michael Klare observes, “If engagement with Iran and Syria was even remotely on the agenda, Abizaid is exactly the man you’d want on the job at Centcom overseeing US forces and strategy in the region. But if that’s not on the agenda, if you’re thinking instead of using force against Iran and/or Syria, then Admiral Fallon is exactly the man you’d want at Centcom.” Fallon’s experience is in air and naval operations, the kind of operations that would lead any US strikes against Iran. (Klare 1/10/2007) Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang says of Fallon’s appointment, “It makes very little sense that a person with [Fallon’s naval] background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially ‘ground’ wars are being fought, unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character. The employment of Admiral Fallon suggests that they are thinking about something that is not a ground campaign.” (Unger 3/2007)
Fallon Won't Countenance Attack on Iran - However, other events indicate Fallon may not be as gung-ho for a war with Iran as some now perceive. In February, Fallon privately expressed his opposition to the proposed increase of US carrier groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three, and told administration officials an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch” (see February 2007).
Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, who falsely told reporters that captured Private Jessica Lynch “fired her weapon” at her captors “until she had no more ammunition” in initial military press briefings (see April 3, 2003), discusses his misleading statements with staffers of the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the possibility that the US military used the Lynch story as propaganda (see April 24, 2007). Thorp, who was later promoted and became the chief public relations officer for then-Joint Chief Chairman Richard Myers, writes: “As I recall, this was a short interview and media desperately wanted me to confirm the story that was running in the States.… I never said that I had seen any intel or even intimated the same.… I may have said I am familiar with ‘the reports’ meaning the press reports, but as you can see I did not confirm them.… We did have reports of a battle and that a firefight had occurred.… That is what I stated.” Thorp says he does not recall ever seeing any classified battlefield intelligence reports concerning Lynch, and says he does not now remember if his remarks were based on such reports. When asked if he knew at the time that Lynch had, in fact, not gotten off a shot at her attackers, Thorp replies, “I would absolutely never, ever, ever, ever say anything that I knew to not be true.” At the time of the Lynch rescue, the chief public affairs official for CENTCOM briefings was Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic communications for CENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks. Wilkinson tells the committee that he was not a source for the media reporting concerning Lynch, and that he didn’t know any details of her capture and rescue: “I still, to this day, don’t know if those details are right or wrong. I just don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any operational report.” Thorp and Wilkinson claim not to know who provided such misleading information to reporters. And neither can explain why initial reports were relatively accurate (see March 23, 2003) but subsequent reports were so suddenly, and so luridly, inaccurate. (Mitchell 7/14/2008)
Retired Marine Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, the author of A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, writes of his involvement with the Jessica Lynch case (see March 23, 2003), and his decision not to award her the Medal of Honor. DeLong was the deputy commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar from 2001 through 2003. In his words, “I represented the military in dealing with politicians regarding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch in Iraq, and thus I can speak with authority about what really happened after her maintenance convoy got lost near Nasiriya[h] in 2003 and she was taken prisoner.” DeLong writes to refute allegations that the military deliberately distorted the story of Lynch’s capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003, April 1, 2003, and April 3, 2003) for its own purposes. Instead, he says, the story became distorted because of what he calls “overzealous politicians and a frenzied press.” According to DeLong, CENTCOM told the press exactly what it had learned of Lynch’s capture within hours of the incident. He writes, “The initial reports from the field regarding Private Lynch stated that she had gone down fighting, had emptied her weapon and that her actions were heroic.” Shortly after her rescue, when the media was still telling stories of her heroism under fire and her wounding by gunfire (see April 7, 2003), politicians from her home state of West Virginia began calling for the military to award Lynch the Medal of Honor. DeLong writes that he halted that process, aware that “initial combat reports are often wrong” and that all such stories must be “thoroughly investigate[d].” Lynch herself was still suffering from “combat shock and loss of memory,” forcing the military to look to “other sources” for all the facts. DeLong recalls “many heated discussions” with the politicians’ Congressional liaison, who pressured DeLong to give Lynch the medal before all the evidence had been collected. He writes, “The politicians repeatedly said that a medal would be good for women in the military; I responded that the paramount issue was finding out what had really happened.” Indeed, he writes, the initial reports were wrong (see June 17, 2003). “Her actions were understandable and justifiable, but they could not be labeled heroic. (It’s important to make clear, too, that Private Lynch has never claimed to be a hero. As she told Congress earlier this week (see April 24, 2007), the ‘story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting’ was not true.)” DeLong writes: “None of us were in it for the publicity: we did it to save a comrade. Period.” He claims that Task Force 20, who executed the rescue mission, “decided to film it on their own.” He is glad they made the film of the rescue “not for publicity purposes, but because that film can now be used to train soldiers.” DeLong concludes: “A nation needs heroes. Hero-making in itself os not a bad thing. But hero-making without grounds is. In the case of Ms. Lynch, overzealous politicians and a frenzied press distorted facts.” (DeLong 4/27/2007)
The US Air Force sets up a secret strategic planning group, nicknamed “Project Checkmate,” tasked with “fighting the next war” against Iran. Project Checkmate, a successor to the group that planned the 1991 Gulf War’s air campaign, reports directly to the Air Force’s commander, General Michael Moseley, and consists of twenty to thirty senior USAF officials as well as defense and cyberspace experts with strong access to the White House, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies. While planning for war with Iran began two years ago in Washington, the strategic planning group represents a serious escalation of planning and perhaps intent by the Bush administration and the US military. Checkmate is envisioned to modernize the stratified strategic thinking that often results in the US military “fighting the last war” over again, and intends to provide innovative strategies for tactical battles using air, space, and even cyberwarfare. The leader of Checkmate is Brigadier General Lawrence “Stutz” Stutzriem, and is assisted by former Israeli military officer Dr. Lani Kass, an expert on cyberwarfare. George W. Bush has said repeatedly that he prefers diplomacy with Iran over military action, but if Iran continues to work towards developing a nuclear weapon, as he and his top advisers believe, then he will consider aggressive, pre-emptive military action. However, Bush faces strong opposition from his own Joint Chiefs of Staff: “None of them think it is a good idea, but they will do it if they are told to,” says one senior defense source.
Aftermath the Biggest Problem - Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney warns that the administration must seriously consider the aftermath of such a military offensive against Iran. “There is no question that we can take out Iran,” he says. “The problem is the follow-on, the velvet revolution that needs to be created so the Iranian people know it’s not aimed at them, but at the Iranian regime.” Checkmate, which is also looking at military contingencies against China and North Korea, was originally formed in the 1970s to counter threats from the then-Soviet Union, but fell into disuse in the 1980s when the Soviet Union began showing signs of internal collapse. Checkmate was revived under Colonel John Warden in 1990 to draw up plans for air strikes against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. “When Saddam [Hussein] invaded Kuwait, we had access to unlimited numbers of people with expertise, including all the intelligence agencies, and were able to be significantly more agile than Centcom,” Warden says, referring to the US Central Command in Florida. Warden says Checkmate’s primary role is to develop the necessary expertise so that “if somebody says Iran, it says: ‘here is what you need to think about.’ Here are the objectives, here are the risks, here is what it will cost, here are the numbers of planes we will lose, here is how the war is going to end and here is what the peace will look like.” (Baxter 9/27/2007)
Part of the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $88 million for modifying B-2 stealth bombers to carry “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” or bunker-busting, bombs. Many both in and out of government believe that the order has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, but is part of the Bush administration’s plans for attacking Iran. The 30,000-pound bombs, called MOPs, are the largest conventional bombs in the military’s arsenal, designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding. The only explanation given in the White House’s budget request is that it comes in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” But no one at the Pentagon or the US Central Command has, so far, been able or willing to identify that need. Military experts say that there is no need for MOPs in Iraq. They could potentially be useful in Afghanistan to destroy Taliban or al-Qaeda hideouts in the mountainous, cave-riddled border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there is no need to use stealth bombers to deploy such weapons. But MOPs are ideal for a strike at Iraq’s heavily fortified, deeply buried nuclear facility in Natanz. John Pike of Globalsecurity.org says, “You’d use it on Natanz. And you’d use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly.” Pike says he does not fully understand the rationale behind the public funding request. “It’s kind of strange,” he says. “It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn’t think you would want to announce it like that.” (Karl 10/24/2007) The request for the bomber modifications comes simultaneously with one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s most belligerent challenges towards Iran (see October 21, 2007).
Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. (Engelhardt 4/29/2008)
Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” (Hess 12/2/2008; Mikkelsen 12/2/2008) Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).
Many top US military commanders in the Middle East are distressed at Senate Republicans’ efforts to block Christopher Hill’s attempt to become the next US ambassador to Iraq. Hill, who was largely successful in crafting a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with North Korea (see Spring and Summer 2005 and February 8, 2007 and After), is being blocked by the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Republican Opprobrium - Brownback calls Hill’s past dealings with Congress over North Korea “evasive and unprofessional”; McCain and Graham have said that Hill has a “controversial legacy” on North Korea, and added: “The next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the US military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither.”
Military Wants Hill Confirmed - But CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, top Iraq commander General Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want Hill in the slot as soon as possible. Odierno says he has served as de facto ambassador since the previous ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left the position on February 13. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says: “Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Ambassador Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job, and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly.… Everybody involved with Iraq wants to find a way to replicate that arrangement,” referring to the effective interaction between Generals Odierno and Petraeus and former Ambassador Crocker. “So that you have an even yoke that on the civilian/diplomatic side and on the military side which share the burden and are working together to get the job done. It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people. With regards to [Senate] members who have issue with him, I would say this. We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
Difficult, Myriad Tasks in New Position - Hill faces a difficult job: political stabilization and economic development have taken precedence over military missions in Iraq; tensions between Arabs and Kurds are heightening; sectarian groups are struggling for political dominance; and national elections are approaching. A Washington official says that keeping a lid on such political tensions is “crucial to consolidating the security gains from the surge, yet the advocates of the surge want to slow down the process of getting an ambassador to Iraq.” Retired General William Nash, who commanded US troops in Bosnia, says: “I would not at all be surprised if military commanders in Iraq are frustrated that they don’t have a new ambassador in position. The issues are far more political and economic than they are military and US efforts need to move forward on those fronts. That’s particularly critical in the execution of the withdrawal plan.”
Political Retribution? - Asked why McCain, Brownback, and Graham are blocking Hill’s appointment, Nash says the three are “being difficult to be difficult. I have known Chris Hill for 14 years. He is a wonderful diplomat and exactly the kind of guy we need in Iraq.” Crocker has spoken out in favor of Hill, as has Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So have former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and former US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, who join in writing a letter that reads in part: “We need his experience during this crucial time in Iraq. His previous experiences will serve him greatly when addressing extreme challenges in Iraq.” A Democratic Senate staffer says, “This is all about retribution.” Conservatives blame Hill for nudging Bush’s second term North Korea policy towards multi-party talks, and thusly, “[t]hey want to give Hill a black eye.” Noting that these same Republican senators have argued that Iraq is a central element in America’s national security, the staffer asks, “Why are they d_cking around and not putting an ambassador in there if Iraq is so important?” (Rozen 3/18/2009)
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. (Harvey 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs 8/26/2009) In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. (Lake 8/24/2009)
The Pentagon establishes a new unit called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program,” which is designed to develop cadres of officers (and civilians) from each of the military’s services who agree to three to five year tours to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Under the program, the Pentagon plans to assemble a dedicated cadre of about 600 officers and civilians who will develop skills in counterinsurgency, regional languages, and culture, and then be “placed in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress towards achieving US government objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” according to a Pentagon directive establishing the program. Those selected for the program will do a year in Afghanistan before moving to the Pentagon’s new Afghanistan office or to jobs at CENTCOM that are focused on the war. Implementation of the Afpak Hands program is to begin in two phases. The first phase, commencing on October 19, 2009, has already been sourced according to the Pentagon directive. The Afpak Hands program, together with a new intelligence center based at CENTCOM called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence” (see August 26, 2009) and the recently established Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell (see May 11-June 10, 2009), indicate that the US military is planning for a long-term engagement in the region depending heavily on elite, Afpak-dedicated military and intelligence officers. (Dreazen 10/6/2009; Marines.mil 10/7/2009)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike