Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's All About Leadership

When I re-read portions of the “War Journal” I maintained during my mobilizations in 2003 and 2004, it is amazing to see that the average service member was able to foretell the future. Soldiers remind themselves that they are at the “bottom of the food chain” when it comes to information flow, but their insight is amazing.

Privates, sergeants and colonels all wondered why we were dismantling the entire Iraqi Army. The civil affairs officers with whom we worked in Baghdad were frustrated that many of the projects they created were not funded by the tight-fisted Coalition Provisional Authority. With only 140,000 soldiers in a nation of 25 million people, we were trying to fight a dollar war on a twenty-five-cent budget.

While we sat in the desert with insufficient body armor and un-armored vehicles, we could see the frustration in the Iraqi people and we wondered if they might eventually hate us for turning their nation upside down. Iraqis needed food, shelter, jobs, electricity and even sewage treatment. We removed their government, their army, their police force and the structure of their entire society, but we didn’t move quickly enough to replace it all. What we did for them was great; it just wasn’t enough.

Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of a light and mobile force would have worked if all the battles consisted of heavy bombing and Ranger-style raids where objectives were seized briefly and held only for a short-term mission. That light and mobile force cannot work when cities and nations must be captured, held and re-built.

For an extended war, this country needs a powerful army of battalions, brigades, divisions, tanks and a lot of soldiers. Such an army must be properly equipped, it must have its weapons repaired and replaced and it must have enough reinforcements that its soldiers are not physically and mentally used up after years of combat action.

The battle of the Kasserine Pass in World War II was the first major confrontation between the American and German forces. The in-experienced American army under-estimated a battle-tested German war machine and we got our rear ends handed to us. We lost the first major battle of that war. We learned our lesson, fixed the problems and re-engaged the enemy on our own terms. The battle itself was lost, but the over-all war was won.

Hopefully, our military and civilian leaders will prevent a “Kasserine Pass” defeat in Iraq. They must never forget that the Arabs we are fighting are determined warriors who are descended from desert tribes experienced in the art of war. They are smart enough to wage a relentless, full-scale guerrilla war because fighting is in their genes. Up to this point, we have only waged a “half-war”.

In the end, it’s all about leadership. The war on terror cannot afford a defeat like the Kasserine Pass.

SFC Chuck Grist

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