difficulties that the U.S. military and other coalition forces have
experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the consternation
expressed in the Western press and public opinion should come as no
surprise--in part because both press and people have scant
appreciation for the difficulties of post-war occupation. Yet there
is legitimate cause for complaint. The U.S. military and its allies
were poorly prepared to undertake post-conflict operations. This
shortfall exacerbated the "fog of peace"--the chaos, uncertainty,
violence, and privation that typically occur during the initial
post-conflict period. Operations were not as efficient and
effective as they could have been.
paper argues that weaknesses in how the United States and its
allies approached the challenges of post-conflict operations run
deeper than the debate over policies, the justification for the
war, the number of troops committed to the occupation, and the
Lack of historical memory has played a significant role.
Unrealistic expectations are one reflection of this dynamic.
Perhaps even more important, the trials of Iraq reflect
long-standing flaws in how U.S. forces prepare for the fight for
peace--weaknesses that exacerbated strategic mistakes made while
planning for the occupation.
Today, I would like to first briefly
discuss the "problem of forgetting." Then, I will describe the
long-standing traditions and routine practices that influence the
conduct of U.S. post-conflict operations; examine some of the
strategic missteps made by the coalition leadership; and finally,
suggest some reforms that could institutionalize better military
practices in the future.
The Problem of Perception
Although occupation is an inevitable task
in any successful military conflict, it is one that arguably
receives little attention from the public, policymakers, or the
military itself. One has only to compare the scope of scholarship
on the battles of World War II with the post-war occupation
period. There appear
to be signs that lack of historical memory plays a role in the
public perception of operations. In both the Iraq and Afghanistan
operations there are abundant signs that public expectations have
been far from realistic--despite warning before the wars that the
operations would likely be protracted and difficult.
part, such warnings may have carried less weight because the
prospects for these operations are so unpredictable that any
assessments--no matter how optimistic or gloomy--are always
suspect. Before the
battle, everyone wants clear answers on what lies ahead, but there
are few military activities more difficult than predicting the end
state of a conflict.
Prior to the onset of post-conflict operations, it is unlikely that
the military can provide firm assessments about the cost,
character, or duration of an occupation.
operations are underway, expectations that post-conflict activities
will be smooth, uncomplicated, frictionless, and non-violent are
equally unrealistic, as are assumptions that because difficulties
do emerge they can only be the result of grievous policy errors or
strategic misjudgments. After all, the enemy gets a vote, and how
indigenous opposition forces or outside agitators choose to defy
the occupation authorities will, in part, determine the course of
events. In post-war Germany, for example, the poor organization and
subsequent collapse of planned Nazi opposition made the Allies'
task of reinstituting civil order significantly easier. The Office
of Strategic Services, for example, estimated that the Allies would
face a guerrilla army of upwards of 40,000--an assessment that
proved wildly inaccurate.
Additionally, it is often forgotten that
there is a "fog of peace" that is equally as infamous as
Clausewitz's "fog of war"--which rejects the notion that outcomes
can be precisely predicted or that there is a prescribed rulebook
for success that any military can follow.
as conditions in occupied Iraq worsened and Bush Administration
officials tried to draw parallels to the difficulties of the
post-war occupation of Europe to illustrate the difficulties often
faced after the battle, they were excoriated for being
fact, post-war conditions in Europe were far from sanguine. For
example, the displaced populations in post-war Europe (upwards of
14 million by some counts) in conjunction with shortages of food,
lack of suitable housing, ethnic and racial tensions, and scarcity
of domestic police forces created significant public safety and
physical security concerns.
Pre-war assumptions are a poor yardstick
for measuring post-conflict performance. The current debate over
planning for the number of forces to support the occupation in Iraq
offers a case in point. Initial projections for occupation troops
were between 75,000 and 100,000. Some skeptics, including the U.S. Army
Chief of Staff, suggested that several hundred thousand would be
needed for the occupation. The actual troop levels during the
occupation have ranged from about 125,000 to 160,000. Critics have
pointed to these lower force levels as a significant contributing
factor in the outbreak of violence. Yet as one pre-war analysis
conducted by the U.S. Army War College pointed out, criticizing
pre-war projections is unrealistic. Any forecasts of actual troop
numbers made before the actual post-war situation develops--the
report concluded--are "highly speculative." Indeed, claims that force structure
estimates were based on historical precedents from previous occupations are dubious.
Given the diverse conditions and requirements for different
operations, drawing useful comparisons appears unrealistic.
Likewise, recognizing that Iraq is a
country the size of California with porous borders awash with arms,
and a population of about 25 million (with at least 10 million in
eight major cities), it is unclear how numbers alone might have
made a difference. Considering the scope of the security challenge,
300,000 troops would likely have had just as much difficulty as
100,000. Clearly, more troops would have helped, but numbers by
themselves are not a silver bullet solution.
American public is not alone in lacking a frame of reference for
judging progress. The armed forces' appreciation is not much better
than that of the public at large. According to Antulio Echevarria,
a well-respected Army historian and national security analyst, the
American way of war rarely extends "beyond the winning of battles
and campaigns to the gritty work of turning military victory into
As a result, while civilian expectations and assumptions are
usually wrong, the problems of public misperception are often
aggravated by inadequate military preparations. Operations in
Afghanistan and Iraq may merely offer the most recent cases in
Rhythm of Habits
Among the traditions, experiences,
preconceptions, and routine practices that determine how the
military wages the fight for peace, the most powerful force shaping
its thinking is a "tradition of forgetting." The
services--particularly the Army--have a long record of conducting
various kinds of peace missions. Traditionally, however, the armed
forces concentrate on warfighting and eschew the challenges of
dealing with the battlefield after the battle.
Army's experience and knowledge about peace operations have never
been incorporated into mainstream military thinking in any major,
systematic way. For example, the official report on the U.S.
participation in the occupation of the Rhineland after World War I
noted that "despite the precedents of military governments in
Mexico, California, the Southern States, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama,
China, the Philippines, and elsewhere, the lesson seemingly has not
After World War I, the tradition of
forgetting continued. The Army's Field Service Regulations of 1923
(doctrinal guidance crafted to capture the lessons of World War I)
made no mention of the occupation of the Rhineland or that there
might be a need to conduct similar operations in the future. The
manual simply affirmed that "the ultimate objective of all military
operations is the destruction of the enemy's armed forces in
battle." FM 100-5,
the Army's capstone field manual for the conduct of operations
during World War II, did not mention the conduct of occupation
the United States prepared to enter World War II, the military
discovered it had virtually no capacity to manage the areas it
would likely have to occupy. In fact, one of the planners' first
acts was to root out the report on lessons learned from the
Rhineland occupation. The Army did not even a have a field manual
on occupation management before 1940. A senior general was not
appointed to plan overseas occupation operations until 1942--the
same year the Army created staff officer positions for division
(and higher) units to advise commanders about civil affairs and
established its first military government school. Even then, the
military undertook its occupation duties only reluctantly. When
President Roosevelt wanted to free up more shipping to ferry civil
affairs personnel to Europe for occupation duties, the Pentagon
complained about diverting resources from its warfighting tasks.
The best way to prepare for the post-war period, the Joint Chiefs
argued, "is to end the war quickly." U.S. military forces remained
reluctant occupiers throughout the post-war period.
After World War II, the Pentagon largely
forgot about the problem and continued to reinvent solutions each
time it faced a new peace operation: Fighting the battles of the
Cold War remained the military's overwhelming preoccupation.
Arguably, America's military after the
Cold War has a better appreciation for its post-conflict
responsibilities. It could not forget these missions entirely
because they had become a fact of life in the post-Cold World
disorder. On average, the U.S. military has conducted an operation
related to peacekeeping, peacemaking, or post-conflict occupation
every two years since the end of the Cold War. With the Soviet
menace gone, there was greater pressure to employ U.S. forces for a
range of operations, which the Pentagon termed "military operations
other than war".
it is not clear that the military internalized the requirements for
post-conflict operations. In 1995, the Pentagon produced its first
joint doctrine for military operations other than war. The U.S. Army
established a Peacekeeping Institute at its Army War College in
Carlisle, Pennsylvania. These initiatives left much to be desired.
They paid scant specific attention to post-conflict
operations--arguably the most difficult and strategically important
of all the peace activities that military forces might be called on
to undertake. Even
the term "operations other then war" was problematic, implying a
range of military tasks less strategically important than
warfighting and grouping post-conflict operations (essentially an
extension of the warfighting mission) in with a plethora of tasks
that included everything from peacekeeping to helping out after
There was also little special recognition
that the military's two most recent major post-war operations in
Panama (after Operation Just Cause) and Kuwait (after the first
Iraq War) were both deeply flawed. For example, Lieutenant General John
Yeosock, who was given initial responsibility for overseeing
operations in Kuwait in 1991, recalled that he received virtually
no assets or planning assistance for the task. Yeosock recalled he
had been handed a "dripping bag of manure" that no one else
in Iraq today appear different only in scale and duration. Initial
assessments of U.S. military operations in Iraq suggest that the
military failed to follow its own doctrine or learn from past
experiences: Halting efforts in rebuilding Iraqi security forces
and controlling arms in the country offer two examples of this.
military's reluctance to think deeply about the place of peace
operations in military affairs derived from a rich tradition of
Western military theory, typified by the 19th century Prussian
thinker Carl von Clausewitz, who emphasized the primacy of winning
battles and destroying the enemy's conventional troops. Clausewitz, a veteran
of the Napoleonic Wars, could perhaps be forgiven for not even
mentioning peace operations in his classic treatise On War. After
all, peacekeeping operations were something new and novel in his
time, first conducted by allied forces dismantling Napoleon's
empire in 1815. The
U.S. military, which could look back on almost two centuries of
these operations by modern states, had less of an excuse.
Other aspects of the military's
traditional approach appear to have detrimental effects as well.
When American forces do undertake peace missions, they try, as much
as possible, to make them mirror traditional military activities.
For example, during World War II, the military staff planning
process for military government operations was virtually identical
to the procedures for planning battles. Today, the staff process
for planning operations other than war remains very similar to the
combat planning process, encouraging leaders to use very similar
techniques and procedures.
approach to post-conflict activities that mirrors combat can result
in the misapplication of resources, inappropriate tasks and goals,
and ineffective operations. In Europe after World War II, Army tank
battalions and artillery brigades were ill-suited to the conduct of
occupation duties. They lacked appropriate equipment, such as
non-lethal weapons to conduct crowd control. Mobility was another
challenge. The infantry had few vehicles and lacked significant
protection against improvised booby-traps and small arms fire.
Armored units had much fewer personnel and their heavy tracked
vehicles were unsuited to patrolling urban areas.
Training was another problem. Most troops
lacked training in many critical security tasks such as conducting
investigations, arrest, detention, search and seizure,
interrogation, negotiation, and crowd control. It was not until
months after the occupation that the Army began to field
constabulary units that were better designed to conduct a range of
U.S. constabulary forces served successfully but were soon
disbanded, replaced by conventional military units more appropriate
to the tasks of fighting Cold War battles.
Today, United States combat units are
still structured in much the same manner as they were during World
War II. The United States has no forces specifically organized and
equipped for post-conflict missions. Although the U.S. military has
developed training programs and tactics for post-war duties, these
were mainly provided for follow-on forces. Much as during World War
II, the initial occupation troops were the same forces that
conducted the combat campaign and who had to learn the skills of
occupation on the job.
result of the rhythm of habits is, in Iraq as after previous
campaigns, that the United States has been served by military
forces that are adequately designed, equipped, and trained to fight
wars, but are far less well-prepared for engaging in the fight for
peace. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most effective and
survivable Army units in Iraq has proved to be its Stryker
Brigades, a controversial initiative of former Army Chief of Staff
General Eric Shinseki. These are new units that--while not
specifically designed for post-conflict operations--have equipment
and organizations closer to meeting the requirements of these kinds
Another, persistent rhythm of habit is the
armed forces' penchant for largely eschewing integrated interagency
operations (activities involving more than one federal agency), as
well as ignoring the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The result is that most operations lack cohesion, flexibility, and
responsiveness. During World War II, the military closely followed
its tradition (as much as possible) of divesting itself of
non-combat tasks. Traditionally, the services preferred to
establish a "firewall" between civilian and soldier activities to
prevent civilian tasks from becoming an overwhelming drain on
As a result, there was scant cooperation between the Pentagon and
other federal agencies or NGOs.
Post-Cold War operations also reflected
chronic difficulties in coordinating military activities with
Prospects for better performances in Iraq did not bode well. As a
result of U.N. sanctions, NGOs had little presence in the country,
no accurate assessments of needs, and no logistical or support
base. Lacking good intelligence on internal conditions in the
country, the CIA, the State Department, and the Department of
Defense were at odds about how to best deal with political and
humanitarian concerns. Without a coordinated, integrated planning
effort, miscues, mistakes, and disputes seemed inevitable.
Official U.S. accounts of cooperation in
Iraq and Afghanistan give little indication of the chronic tensions
that have marred American operations in the past. It is not clear
how candid these assessments might be. It is perhaps too early to pass
judgment on these operations, but persistent reports of
disagreements between the Departments of State and Defense and
complaints by the Red Cross that military authorities were
unresponsive to the organization's findings on treatment of Iraqi
prisoners are signs that offer cause for concern.
suspect that the determination of forces trying to undermine the
U.S. efforts, American misperceptions, and the rhythms of habit
alone do not explain the difficulties that the United States has
experienced during the conduct of the occupation. An authoritative
history of the occupation will likely find that errors in policy
and strategy also played an important part. Several key decisions
in particular will bear close scrutiny.
First, it is not at all clear that
coalition forces dedicated sufficient time or resources to planning
for the occupation. The Allies planned for three years to occupy
Germany. Serious planning for the occupation of Iraq was done in a
matter of a few months. While the bulk of the U.S. Central Command
(CENTCOM) planners and experts in Washington focused on planning
for the war, far less resources went into preparing for the
Recognizing its dearth of post-conflict
planning expertise, CENTCOM requested that the Army War College
evaluate its efforts and offer recommendations. In October 2002,
the War College's Strategic Studies Institute undertook a study
that produced a detailed assessment of political conditions, tasks
to be accomplished, and recommendations. The study was well received by the
CENTCOM staff, but soon after it was delivered responsibility for
planning was shifted to the newly established Office of
Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA) under retired Army
General Jay Garner. ORHA, which was not established until January
20, 2003, showed little interest in the War College assessment;
therefore, planning was effectively begun from scratch. Garner's office
focused on humanitarian relief, reconstruction, civil
administration, and communications, logistics, and budgetary
support. An analysis of post-war planning before the conflict noted
a number of significant shortfalls--concerns that proved justified
during the course of the occupation.
second significant problem will likely prove to be the decision to
bifurcate operations between the military and a lead civilian
agency; first ORHA, and later the Coalition Provisional Authority.
As Nadia Schadlow rightly points out in her article "War and the
Art of Governance," cleaving responsibilities between agencies
during the initial conduct of an occupation is a mistake. Physical
security underlies all efforts to conduct the three vital tasks of
occupation--averting humanitarian crises, fielding domestic
security forces, and establishing a legitimate government. These
tasks are a prerequisite to reconstruction. Splitting
responsibilities hindered the effort to address these tasks
military, Schadlow correctly concludes, should remain responsible
for all three critical mission areas until a reasonable level of
physical security and public safety has been achieved.
third, and perhaps most troubling, shortfall in U.S. efforts has
been the inability to rapidly field domestic security forces. In
part, this effort has lagged because of lack of an adequate plan,
dividing responsibility for fielding police, civil defense, and
military forces, lack of equipment, inability to rapidly disburse
funds, and difficulties in vetting and training senior leadership.
Interestingly, the coalition forces have faced similar difficulties
in ramping up domestic security forces in Afghanistan.
Administration and senior defense officials in the Pentagon must
bear the responsibility for these shortfalls. If the occupation had
been short and bloodless, these mistakes would not likely have
seemed as grave, but the persistent opposition to coalition efforts
has made these misjudgments much more significant.
New Military Capabilities and
efficiency of the operations and the quality of senior-level
decisions might have fared differently if they had been built on
more solid operational capabilities--but they were not. If we agree
that the military is poorly prepared to conduct post-conflict
missions--and that these are important tasks to get right--how can
we ensure that armed forces are more ready to conduct these
operations in the future?
Putting aside the question of what would
be the optimum organization, training, and doctrine for
post-conflict forces, I would like to address the greater strategic
question of where these forces come from.
Suitable post-conflict forces can come
from three places. First, a nation can have allies with suitable
units to conduct the mission for them. Second, they can reorganize
and retrain traditional combat forces as units better prepared to
conduct occupation duties. Third, they can maintain forces
specifically designed to spearhead an occupation.
would argue, in the case of the United States, that a great power
should do all three, using its abundance of resources to gain
maximum flexibility in how it approaches post-conflict operations
and tailoring the best force for the mission. Thus, the United
States should do more to build up the capacity of its allies. It
should also do a much better job converting forces for
post-conflict duties and learning the lessons of current
operations. Finally, it should build organizations and supporting
programs specifically designed to conduct post-conflict duties.
Meeting the third requirement is
undoubtedly the most difficult. Creating the right set of
capabilities will require a set of initiatives that cut across the
armed forces education processes, career professional development
patterns, acquisition programs, and organizations. These
innovations might include the following.
skills needed to conduct effective post-conflict tasks requires the
right combination of "hard power" (the means to provide security)
and "soft power" (the capacity to not only understand other nations
and cultures, but also the ability to work in a joint, interagency,
and multinational environment). These are sophisticated leader and
staff proficiencies, required at many levels of command.
the present military education system, however, much of the
edification relevant to building these attributes is provided--if
at all--at the war colleges to a relatively elite group being
groomed for senior leader and joint duty positions. This model is
wrong on two counts.
First, I think these skills are needed by
most leaders and staffs in both the active and reserve components,
not just an elite group within the profession.
Second, in the United States this
education comes too late in an officer's career. Virtually every
other career field provides "graduate level" education to members
in their mid-20s to 30s. Only the military delays advanced
education until its leaders are in their mid-40s.
armed services also need special schools specifically designed to
teach the operational concepts and practices relevant to
post-conflict missions. The services already have advanced schools
(such as the Marine Corps' School for Advanced Warfighting) for
instruction in the operational arts at their staff colleges. These
courses train the military's finest planners. The curriculum in
these courses should be expanded to include post-conflict
combatant commands should be reorganized to include interagency
staffs with specific responsibility for developing post-conflict
contingency plans in the same manner as current operational staffs
plan for warfighting contingencies. In the event of war, the
post-conflict interagency group can be attached to the operation's
joint force commander to provide the nucleus of an occupation
addition, the joint force command should include a general-officer
deputy commander who would oversee the work of the planning group
and assume command of the occupation force after the conflict.
These staffs and command positions could provide a series of
operational assignments for the career development of a cadre of
officers especially skilled in post-conflict duties.
Special post-conflict units could be
assembled from existing National Guard and Reserve units including
security, medical, engineer, and public affairs commands. Since
many of the responsibilities involved in post-war duties are
similar in many ways to missions that might be required of homeland
security units, these forces could perform double duty, having
utility both overseas and at home.
military also needs a more robust and integrated acquisition
program--a "system of systems" approach to cost-conflict missions
that includes more aggressive development of non-lethal
technologies, capacities to rapidly equip and interface with
domestic security forces, and support for the reconstruction and
protection of governance and other critical infrastructure. Indeed,
the military might consider establishing a "future security system"
acquisition program under a lead-system integrator responsible for
developing a range of technologies applicable to post-conflict and
domestic support missions.
The Consequences of Change
21st century has not seen the last of war. Regardless of the
outcome of the current operations in Iraq, the great nations of the
world will no doubt again be called upon to conduct post-conflict
tasks in the future.
There is at least one clear lesson from
the current experience, a powerful reminder that these operations
are complex and difficult: If the United States and its allies wish
to meet future challenges more effectively, they will have to
address the cultural impediments to providing the right kind of
military capabilities. Innovations in education, operational
practices, acquisition, and organization could provide the impetus
for developing an appropriate post-conflict force for the next
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior
Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
at The Heritage Foundation.