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.

By Phillip Carter |  May 20, 2008; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Wiser in Battle
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Very interesting post. Clearly, no one at DoD took the situation very seriously at the outset. It seems that Rumsfeld, et al. thought things would be winding down pretty soon. Franks was ROAD once Bush said that the mission was accomplished. Bremer would soon be in place (and by all accounts, NOBODY in uniform wanted to work with him and his crack staff of political hacks).

Soon, Rumsfeld needed a placeholder to take command of the forces on the ground. So he appointed Sanchez (who has been described in one of the many fine books on Iraq as an officer who "was a pretty good battalion commander"), making him a three star. In effect, the most junior three star in the Army was given the most important three star billet in the Army. Furthermore, he had no preparation for the assignment, no staff, and no support either in the theatre or from above.

Talk about setting someone up for failure...

A good NCO knows not to do that to a private, yet SecDef does it to a general, where the stakes are that much higher and the job that much more complicate? Sanchez has a lot to answer for, but he was not served well by his chain of command. That puts some of his many failures into perspective, though it still does not excuse him from trying to pass the buck.

Posted by: DM Inf | May 20, 2008 9:39 AM

From the Pentagon and the White House there is a deafening silence on taking responsibility or this mess. Sanchez was not only set up for failure, he was set up to be the whipping boy. I say right on to him for letting the public know inside details of this fiasco. Call it passing the buck or not. He personally may be at fault for many of the problems there, I don't think he has denied that. But many of the passages in this book regarding Rummy and the Bush-appointed political hacks running this war are undeniable.

How else are we supposed to get through the wall of silence other than with pass-the-buck books? If you believe official after action reports, then you are probably sniffing the glue from the binding.

In any case it may yet end up in a circular firing squad. Or probably already has, I for one will keep my bull-scheisse protectors on. I hope I did not take them off for Sanchez. I realize the field commander is supposed to take the laurels for victory and the onus for failure. But we need to remember that he was not given the resources he needed by the White House.

Posted by: mike | May 20, 2008 12:31 PM

Amen, mike. Sanchez certainly should be held to account for his failures, of which there are too many to count, but ultimately the administration bears the responsibility.

Sanchez's book seems to add, when read along with the many other accounts, to the idea that the whole thing was run with a remarkable degree of incompetence from top to bottom. The folks who seem to have been able to figure things out and who might have been able to salvage some of the mess--McKiernan, who understood that we needed to work with the Iraqis and was in the process of negotiating with officers in the Iraqi army to bring some units back up to help restore services, and even Jay Garner seemed to at least understand the gravity of the problem but was not given the power to do anything about it--were sidelined or fired. But Sanchez's writing, from what I have heard not having read the book, is in keeping with the theme of all of those in key positions blaming someone else.

Posted by: DM Inf | May 20, 2008 1:05 PM

"A good NCO knows not to do that to a private, yet SecDef does it to a general, where the stakes are that much higher and the job that much more complicate?"

DM Inf you have framed it well.

May I add a perspective. The NCO knows "not to do.." since he is in the same environment of the private. He will be close to the consequences. Ranking order as it rises reduces the closeness to the consequences. Rumsfeld and all those who sit at the bigger desks need not exist in the world of the general; the general, in the world of the private.

This separation, this gap or even better, this moat of hierarchy gives us the events of an abandoned fielded general, an isolated chief administrator, an unaccountable interrogator, a dilapidated barracks for returning injured or healthy soldiers, and on to other results that defy our judgement or principles.

Rummey could have helped New Orleans but withheld military assets. It's beneficial consequences to him ie crippling another competitor had more for him than the consequences to those people suffering in an unclean city.

I submit that the Sanchezes, Soldiers and the Iraqis burdens had no consequences to him either.

Posted by: Bill Keller | May 20, 2008 1:34 PM

There was another mysterious action that occurred about this time that I never figured out, and the above excerpt confuses me even more. Perhaps the book will shed some light.

Why did LTG Wallace leave command of V Corps? The original plan as I understood it was that he (V Corps CG) would stay on as the CJTF-7 CG when CFLCC left, but LTG Wallace left in a big hurry, which forced MG Sanchez to leave his newly arrived 1AD and step up.

What happened? LTG Wallace like a very capable general officer and very successful.

Posted by: bg | May 20, 2008 9:12 PM

bg - I thought the conventional wisdom was that General Wallace was removed for his widely reported statement that he made to the press:

"The enemy we were fighting was not what we had predicted"

Phil posted on this years ago right after it happened on the old Intel Dump blog. As I recall there was also some speculation that Sanchez was given the job to boost GOP chances during the 04 election.

I agree that Wallace would have made a good Commander for phase IV in Iraq if given the chance. I note that he had Advisor experience in Vietnam. His bio states he was an Assistant District Advisor and later an Operations Advisor in the Mekong Delta back in 72. Wonder if he was at An Loc during the NVA Easter Offensive???

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2008 10:35 PM

bg - I thought the conventional wisdom was that General Wallace was removed for his widely reported statement that he made to the press:

"The enemy we were fighting was not what we had predicted"

Phil posted on this years ago right after it happened on the old Intel Dump blog. As I recall there was also some speculation that Sanchez was given the job to boost GOP chances during the 04 election.

I agree that Wallace would have made a good Commander for phase IV in Iraq if given the chance. I note that he had Advisor experience in Vietnam. His bio states he was an Assistant District Advisor and later an Operations Advisor in the Mekong Delta back in 72. Wonder if he was at An Loc during the NVA Easter Offensive, what some called "the Verdun of Vietnam"???

Posted by: mike | May 20, 2008 11:05 PM

oops - sorryfor the double post!!

Posted by: mike | May 20, 2008 11:06 PM

I have read that Franks wanted to fire Wallace right after he said that, during the invasion. While they couldn't really do it right then--that would have been unbelievably stupid--they did the next stupidest thing and fired him during the transition to Phase IV.

Posted by: DM Inf | May 21, 2008 10:38 AM

Bill Keller: "Rummey could have helped New Orleans but withheld military assets."

My take on this, Bill, was that he opposed a domestic disaster relief mission for the military as it supported a case for manpower, the very last thing Rummy wanted in his DOD. The relief of New Orleans was a manpower intense mission, not one that could be performed by "Rumsfeld High Tech" low manpower innovative forces. In my cranky old age, I have come to the conclusion that Mr Rumsfeld felt something close to contempt for the bulk of the troops. They took money away from his sexy high tech aspirations.

Posted by: Aviator47 | May 21, 2008 3:39 PM

...Just as Tricare, et al, took money away from his pet projects.

Al, sorry for the joke at your expense :)

Posted by: Jimmy Wu | May 22, 2008 11:19 AM

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