The C Team
One of the most significant strategic decisions made in Iraq is also one of the least well known: the order given in May 2003 to withdraw the headquarters known as Combined Land Forces Component Command (CFLCC), or "sea-flick" to insiders.
Commanded by Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, this headquarters served in between Gen. Tommy Franks's CENTCOM and the fighting ground units such as Lt. Gen. Scott Wallace's V Corps. It was a robust headquarters with a deep bench of hand-picked staff officers representing the Army's best and brightest in operations, intelligence and logistics. As described in the excellent book Cobra II, it was CFLCC that largely planned the invasion of Iraq.
On pages 180-81 of his autobiography, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez describes the disastrous effect that withdrawing CFLCC had on the post-war effort:
One week after Saddam Hussein's statute was toppled in Baghdad, the military chain of command changed rapidly. On April 16, 2003, as part of GEN Franks's force drawdown order, CENTCOM started planning to leave the theater and move to Tampa, Florida. Its forward command and control center in Qatar ceased wartime operations and was completely gone by May 1. GEN John Abizaid would take over command of CENTCOM in July.
Also on May 1, the Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC), led by LTG David McKiernan, assumed the designation of Combined Joint Task Force 7 (CJTF-7), with responsibility for the activities of all coalition forces in Iraq. First Armored Division completed its deployment into Baghdad within a week and relieved the 3rd Infantry Division by mid-May. But only two weeks later, on May 16, it was formally announced that CLFCC would be departing Iraq and relocating to the United States. This abrupt turnaround was another monumental blunder that created significant strategic risk for America. CFLCC had fought a magnificent ground campaign, and possessed the institutional knowledge, command relationships, and organization to transition the war smoothly from major combat to Phase IV operations. LTG McKiernan had assembled the best staff that the Army had to offer at that point in history. We called them "The Dream Team." But now, the dream team would be gone. I believe this decision was made by Franks and McKiernan, partly because they thought the war was over, and partly because they did not want to have anything to do with Bremer, the CPA, and Phase IV.
Whatever the reasons for CFLCC's disengagement, the foreseeable consequences were daunting. In country, we would no longer have the staff-level capacities for strategic- or operational-level campaign planning, policy, and intelligence. All such situational awareness and institutional memory would be gone with the departure of the best available Army officers who had been assigned to CFLCC for the ground war. The entire array of established linkages was dismantled and redeployed. Furthermore, V Corps had no coalition operations and ORHA/CPA-related staff capacity, which were departing the theater with CFLCC just at a time when the coalition and civilian administrator support missions were dramatically expanding. Not having these necessary capacities would make it extremely difficult to fight the ongoing war in Iraq, provide much-needed support for the CPA, and bring stability and security to the country. And finally, the loss of our strategic-level national intelligence capacities would cause serious problems that would lead, in part, to future problems at Abu Ghraib.
None of this absolves Sanchez of his command responsibility, but it does help to explain why his headquarters was so behind the curve from the war's start.
He was forced to divide his Corps-level headquarters between running V Corps (which became CJTF-7), and acting as the strategic headquarters for all of Iraq, and interfacing with Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority and myriad other agencies. CJTF-7 had to do this with far less than its authorized allotment of troops, and no clear long-term plan for personnel rotation or sustainment. In many key areas, ranging from intelligence to reconstruction to the building of Iraqi security forces, this set the conditions for U.S. forces to fail.
And it got worse -- the Army and other services flatly rejected Sanchez's pleas for help. Under federal law, there exists a dividing line between the fighting forces (like CENTCOM and CJTF-7) and the military services (the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps) that are responsible for training, equipping and organizing the forces to fight. Sanchez describes how he fought tooth-and-nail with the services for additional forces to beef up CJTF-7 in mid-2003, to no avail. Even after the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the services to help Sanchez, he still fought with Washington over his requests:
When the Joint Chiefs of Staff finally ordered the various services to fill our requirements, we were questioned endlessly about needs and justifications.
"Why are you asking for all these people? We don't think you need them."
"Wait a minute," I responded. "You have no idea what I need in this country."
"Well, we don't have the forces. You have to give us three months advance notice."
"But I need them now."
"Then put your request through McKiernan's command. CFLCC has to validate your requirements."
"But I don't work for McKiernan."
The bureaucracy within the various services questioned, stalled, and in the end, refused to send the help we requested. To make things worse, there was no mechanism within the Department of Defense to force the individual services to comply with orders issued with the Joint Chief of Staff. I simply couldn't believe it. Everybody knew the orders were being ignored, but nobody took the situation seriously enough to fix it. The services were continuing to do their standard bureaucratic dance even though we were still at war. Meanwhile, American soldiers were fighting and dying on the ground in Iraq.
Exactly one month after assuming command, on July 14, 2003, I sent a memo to CENTCOM documenting the status of my requests. "The overall fill rate for CJTF-7 is 37%," I wrote. "[And] only one of thirty critical requirements has been filled."
Manning joint task forces and joint headquarters had been a problem within the services for as long as I had been in the Army. The services balked at it, in part, because they would have to take people out of hide in order to reassign them. And why was that? It goes back to the lack of preparation for a long-duration deployment, like the one we were facing in Iraq. The services were simply stretched too thin. And the only people who had the power to solve the problem were the Secretary of Defense and the four-star generals. But most seemed convinced that the war was over, so they allowed the process to stumble along.
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