War critics rile Rumsfeld, Myers |
By John Diamond and Dave Moniz, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's top two officials sharply denounced public criticism of the Iraq invasion plan Tuesday. In private, the war's top general sharply rebuked a senior battlefield commander for telling reporters that Pentagon planners failed to anticipate the fierce level of Iraqi resistance.
In a sometimes testy Pentagon news conference Tuesday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed critical comments from front-line U.S. commanders in Iraq as a "soda straw" view of the overall invasion plan. With evident anger, Myers also complained that punditry by retired generals on TV was "not helpful ... when we've got troops in combat." (Related item: Video: Rumsfeld: Iraq mostly to blame in civilian deaths)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that published reports that he cut the size of the invasion force in half against advice from senior military officers were "just not true."
The comments by Myers and Rumsfeld came after days of growing criticism by active and retired military officers that Rumsfeld's plan for the invasion was inadequate. Critics have said Rumsfeld failed to foresee stiff Iraqi resistance and began the invasion with too light a force.
Rumsfeld's and Myers' public declarations Tuesday — that the war is going well, that critics don't understand the plan, that total victory for the coalition is inevitable — were the visible signs of a long-running internal debate that has pitted the flinty and combative Defense secretary against current and former Army officers who question his views on modern war fighting. The dissension is touching sensitive nerves in the Army, whose senior officers fought in Vietnam and have vowed never to sugarcoat their views of a battle.
While U.S. forces in Iraq reported significant gains Tuesday, there were signs of tension up and down the chain of command.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall commander, rebuked Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of the main Army ground force in Iraq, in a telephone conference last week, according to two military officers and a senior Defense official who asked not to be identified. Wallace had been quoted in major newspapers as saying, "The enemy we're fighting against is different from the one we'd war-gamed against."
Wallace's comment was interpreted as criticism of both Myers' Joint Staff, which oversees war gaming, and of Central Command, the military headquarters headed by Franks, which is responsible for military operations in the Persian Gulf region.
Franks "ripped Wallace" in the phone conversation, one of the military officers said. The senior Defense official called it a "one-way conversation" in which Franks "expressed his displeasure" with what Wallace had said.
Word of the dressing down spread rapidly through the Army ranks in Iraq. Some military officers called Wallace to offer support, a senior military official said. They said the three-star general was speaking honestly and had a duty to air concerns.
At Tuesday's news conference, Myers said senior officers "would be shirking their duty" if they failed to tell higher-ups their honest views about a military situation. The problem, it seems, is doing so publicly.
Since Wallace's comments last week, other officers under his command have been quoted in media accounts as suggesting that the Pentagon sent too small a force to conquer Iraq. Myers said their views of the battle are too narrow or uninformed to be accurate.
"My view of those reports," Myers said, "is that they're bogus. I don't know how they get started, and I don't know how they've been perpetuated. But it's not been by responsible members of the team that put this all together."
Myers sought to isolate the retired generals who have been criticizing the war plan on cable television networks and in newspaper accounts.
"It is not helpful to have those kind of comments come out when we've got troops in combat," Myers said.
When reminded that some of the criticism has also come from those very troops, Myers' tone softened.
"I don't think the perceptions coming from the field are necessarily wrong," Myers said. But overall, he said, "those people probably weren't aware of what we were trying to do early on."
One of the TV pundits, retired Army general Barry McCaffrey, made clear Tuesday that he has no intention of submitting to a Pentagon gag order.
"The war is way too important to be left unilaterally to Secretary Rumsfeld," McCaffrey said. "And probably, I know a lot more about fighting Iraqis than he does." He called it "ludicrous" to suggest that former senior officers were unaware of the war planning. "It looked to me as if the secretary is scared."
The debate over the size of the Iraqi invasion force went public last week when rapid ground gains by coalition forces bogged down in stubborn fighting by Iraqi irregular forces and Republican Guard troops at key strong points on the main routes from Kuwait to Baghdad. It is a debate that could intensify if coalition forces continue to struggle — or quickly fade if the U.S.-led invasion gathers momentum again.
Part of the debate involves Army doctrine. Former officers such as McCaffrey argue that for a battle this size, one armored division was simply not enough. McCaffrey also said the coalition forces lacked troops to guard the 300-mile supply line.
A second element of the debate stems from circumstance, not doctrine.
The initial Pentagon plan called for a much larger force, an additional 62,000 troops that were to be based in Turkey and move toward Baghdad from the north. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said repeatedly that the northern front would shorten the war and save lives.
Turkey, however, refused to let U.S. forces launch an attack from its soil, and President Bush, in a decision that has drawn sharp criticism from retired Army officers, decided to launch the invasion anyway, weeks before those troops and their armored vehicles could be repositioned to Kuwait. As a result, the combined Army and Marine force massing south of Baghdad is about 40,000. Had a full-sized northern front been established, an additional division, about 15,000 troops, would be in the fray.
As the invasion plan has come under increasing criticism, Rumsfeld has taken to referring to it as "Tommy Franks' plan." Rumsfeld took pains Tuesday to say he was complimenting Franks, not shifting the blame to the general.
But senior military commanders recall that in the planning stages, Rumsfeld personally reviewed deployment orders for virtually every military unit they requested, including small units of fewer than 100 troops. Senior Army officers told USA TODAY that the Defense secretary questioned the necessity of deploying dozens of the units and slowed down the deployment process. A senior Air Force officer with direct knowledge of the deployment schedule confirmed the Army officers' account.
Rumsfeld said the first plan he and Franks considered was "really ancient, years old" and failed to account for lessons from the war in Afghanistan and the role of precision weaponry. Top Pentagon officials, military and civilian, agreed a new plan was needed. After months of discussion, Rumsfeld said, President Bush met his commanders via secure teleconference.
"He said, 'Do you have everything you need?' " Rumsfeld quoted Bush as asking. "Simple question. These are adults. They're all four-stars. And they sat there, and they looked at the president in the eye and said, 'Absolutely, we've got everything we need.' "
Contributing: Andrea Stone