General McCaffrey Iraq AAR

After Action Report by General Barry R McCaffrey, U.S. Army (retired), 18 December 2007. AAR written for the United States Military Academy based on GEN McCaffrey's 5 -- 11 December 2007 trip to Iraq. Highlights from the report follow.

The Bottom-Line, an Operational Assessment

Violence Down Dramatically -- The struggle for stability in the Iraqi Civil War has entered a new phase with dramatically reduced levels of civilian sectarian violence, political assassinations, abductions, and small arms/ indirect fire and IED attacks on US and Iraqi Police and Army Forces.

Al Qaeda Tactically Defeated and Trying to Regenerate -- AQ has been defeated at tactical and operational levels in Baghdad and Anbar, but are trying to re-constitute in the north and along Syrian frontier. The Iraqi people have turned on AQI because it overreached trying to impose an alien and harsh practice of Islam inconsistent with the more moderate practices of the Sunni minority. (16% of the population.) The foreign jihadist elements in AQI (with their enormous hatred of what they view as the apostate Shia) have alienated the nationalism of the broader Iraqi population. Foreign intervention across the Syrian frontier has dropped substantially. Most border-crossers are suicide bombers who are dead within four days while carrying out largely ineffective attacks on the civilian population and the Iraqi Police.

Iraqi Security Forces Key Factor in Successful Internal Security -- The ISF is beginning to take a major and independent role successful role in the war. The previously grossly ineffective and corrupt Iraqi Police have been forcefully re-trained and re-equipped. The majority of their formerly sectarian police leadership has been replaced. The police are now a mixed bag--- but many local units are now effectively providing security and intelligence penetration of their neighborhoods. The embedded US training teams have simply incredible levels of trust and mutual cooperation with their Iraqi counterparts. Corruption remains endemic. However, much remains to be done. This is the center-of-gravity of the war.

Central Government Does Not Work -- There is no functional central Iraqi Government. Incompetence, corruption, factional paranoia, and political gridlock have paralyzed the state. The constitution promotes bureaucratic stagnation and factional strife. The budgetary process cannot provide responsive financial support to the military and the police---nor local government for health, education, governance, reconstruction, and transportation. Mr. Maliki has no political power base and commands no violent militias who have direct allegiance to him personally---making him a non-player in the Iraqi political struggle for dominance in the post-US withdrawal period which looms in front of the Iraqi people. However, there is growing evidence of the successful re-constitution of local and provincial government. Elections for provincial government are vitally important to creating any possible form of functioning Iraqi state.

Population and Refugees in Misery -- 4-million plus Iraqi refugees, many of the intelligentsia and professional class have fled to Syria, Jordan or further abroad. In Iraq, medical care is primitive, clean water and adequate food is lacking, and security and justice for the individual Iraqi is weak. There is widespread disbelief that the Iraqi government can bring the country together. The people (and in particular the women) are sick of the chaotic violence and want an end to the unpredictable violence and the dislocation of the population.

Economy Showing Signs of Coming Back -- The economy is slowly reviving, although there is 50% or more unemployment or under-employment. The electrical system is slowly coming back--- but it is being overwhelmed by huge increases in demand as air conditioners, TV's, and light industry load the system. The production and distribution of gasoline is increasing but is incapable of keeping up with a gigantic increase in private vehicle and truck ownership. The Iraqi currency to everyone's astonishment is very stable and more valued than the weak US dollar. The agricultural system is under-resourced and poorly managed---it potentially could feed the population and again become a source of export currency earnings.

U.S. Combat Forces Now Dominating the Civil War - These combat forces have become the most effective counterinsurgency (and forensic police investigative service) in history. LTG Ray Odierno the MNC-I Commander and his senior commanders have gotten out of their fixed bases and operate at platoon level in concert with small elements of the Iraqi Army and Police. Their aggressive tactics combined with simply brilliant use of the newly energized Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT's -- Superb State Department leadership and participation) for economic development have dramatically changed the tone of the war.

Sunni Arabs Want Back In, Before U.S. Forces Depart - The Sunnis Arabs have stopped seeing the US as the enemy and are now cooperating to eliminate AQI -- and to position themselves for the next phase of the Civil War when the US Forces withdraw.

Shia Arabs Holding in Ceasefire, Struggle for Internal Power - The Shia JAM militia under the control of Mr. Sadr have maintained their cease-fire, are giving up rogue elements to be harvested by US Special Operations teams, and are consolidating control over their ethnic cleansing success in Baghdad---as well as maneuvering to dominate the Iranian affiliated Badr brigade forces in the south. However, Sadr lost great credibility when his forces violently intervened in the Holy City of Najaf ---and were videoed on national TV and throughout the Arab world carrying out criminal acts against the pilgrims and protectors of the Shia population.

Dominance of Criminal Elements - There is no clear emerging nation-wide Shia leadership for their 60% of the Iraqi population. It is difficult to separate either Shia or Sunni political factions from Mafia criminal elements-- with a primary focus on looting the government financial system and oil wealth of the nation. In many cases neighborhoods are dominated by gangs of armed thugs who loosely legitimize their arbitrary violence by implying allegiance to a higher level militia.

The Kurds, an Autonomous Successful Region - The Kurds are a successful separate autonomous state with a functioning and rapidly growing economy, a strong military (Both existing Pesh Merga Forces and nominally Iraqi-Kurdish Army divisions), a free press, relative security, significant foreign investment, and a growing tourist industry which serves as a neutral and safe meeting place for separated and terrified Sunni and Shia Arab families from the south.

The Way Ahead

The Central U.S. Military Focus Must be to Create Adequate Iraqi Security Forces - The Iraqis are the key variable. The center of our military effort must be the creation of well-equipped, trained, and adequately supported Iraqi Police and Army Forces with an operational Air Force and Navy. We have rapidly decreasing political leverage on the Iraqi factional leadership. It is evident that the American people have no continued political commitment to solving the Iraqi Civil War. The US Armed Forces cannot for much longer impose an internal skeleton of governance and security on 27 million warring people.

The U.S. Army is too Small and Poorly Resourced to Continue Successful Counterinsurgency Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Current Level - An active counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq could probably succeed in the coming decade with twenty-five US Brigade Combat Teams. (Afghanistan probably needs two more US combat brigades for a total of four in the coming 15 year campaign to create an operational state--- given more robust NATO Forces and ROE). We can probably sustain a force in Iraq indefinitely (given adequate funding) of some 10+ brigades. However, the US Army is starting to unravel.

Healing the Moral Fissures in the Armed Forces - The leadership of Secretary Bob Gates in DOD has produced a dramatic transformation of our national security effort which under the Rumsfeld leadership was characterized by: a failing under-resourced counter-insurgency strategy; illegal DOD orders on the abuse of human rights; disrespect for the media and the Congress and the other departments of government; massive self-denial on wartime intelligence; and an internal civilian-imposed integrity problem in the Armed Forces---that punished candor, de-centralized operations, and commanders initiative.

Admiral Mullen as CJCS and Admiral Fallon as CENTCOM Commander bring hard-nosed realism and integrity of decision-making to an open and collaborative process which re-emerged as Mr. Rumsfeld left office. (Mr. Rumsfeld was an American patriot, of great personal talent, energy, experience, bureaucratic cleverness, and charisma---who operated with personal arrogance, intimidation and disrespect for the military, lack of forthright candor, avoidance of personal responsibility, and fundamental bad judgment.)

Secretary Gates has turned the situation around with little drama in a remarkable display of wisdom, integrity, and effective senior leadership of a very complex and powerful organization. General Petraeus now has the complete latitude and trust in his own Departmental senior civilian leadership to have successfully changed the command climate in the combat force in Iraq. His commanders now are empowered to act in concert with strategic guidance. They can frankly level with the media and external visitors. I heard this from many senior leaders -- from three star General to Captain Company commanders.

The End Game

It is too late to decide on the Iraqi exit strategy with the current Administration. However, the Secretary of Defense and CENTCOM can set the next Administration up for success by getting down to 12 + Brigade Combat teams before January of 2009 ---and by massively resourcing the creation of an adequate Iraqi Security Force.

We also need to make the case to Congress that significant US financial resources are needed to get the Iraqi economy going. ($3 billion per year for five years.) The nation-building process is the key to a successful US Military withdrawal---and will save enormous money and grief in the long run to avoid a failed Iraqi state.

Clearly we must continue the current sensible approach by Secretary of State Rice to open dialog with Syria, Turkey, and the Iranians---and to focus Arab attention with Saudi leadership on a US diplomatic offensive to mitigate the confrontation between Israel and the Arab states. We must also build a coalition to mitigate the dangers of a nuclear armed Iran.

The dysfunctional central government of Iraq, the warring Shia/Sunni/Kurdish factions, and the unworkable Iraqi constitution will only be put right by the Iraqis in their own time---and in their own way. It is entirely credible that a functioning Iraqi state will slowly emerge from the bottom up...with a small US military and diplomatic presence holding together in loose fashion the central government. The US must also hold at bay Iraq's neighbors from the desperate mischief they might cause that could lead to all out Civil War with regional involvement.

A successful withdrawal from Iraq with the emergence of a responsible unified Iraqi nation is vitally important to the security of the American people and the Mid-East. We are clearly no longer on a downward spiral. However, the ultimate outcome is still quite seriously in doubt.

SWJ Note: The AAR, page 7, states that there are "still 3,000-plus attacks on U.S. forces each month". The number of attacks against all Coalition forces during November 2007 was 1,034. The total for all security incidents to include Coalition and Iraqi Security forces was 2,475. The later has not been seen consistently in Iraq since the summer of 2005.


Read the entire After Action Report

After Action - Jules Crittenden Forward Movement

McCaffrey is Great - Thomas P.M. Barnett Weblog

More on Iraq - The Belmont Club

General McCaffrey Looks at Iraq - PrairiePundit

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