"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Monday, October 25, 2004
The moment when U.S. troops realized they had badly underestimated the resistance they would encounter from Iraqi guerrilla fighters can be pinpointed to the minute.
At precisely 9 a.m. on March 22, 2003, the third day of the war in Iraq, GIs riding armored vehicles through the southern town of Samawah waved at a group of civilians gathered near a bridge. Instead of a friendly reply, they got automatic weapons fire. The men charged the armored column in waves, attacking with AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
With their superior firepower, the Americans cut down the attackers by the score. But the incident stunned U.S. soldiers and commanders, according to an account by Staff Sgt. Dillard Johnson, who helped beat back the attack that day. Lt. Col. Terry Ferrell, one of Johnson's superior officers, had half-jokingly told his troops to "expect a parade."
The searing experience, recounted in "On Point," an official Army report on the conflict, has since become daily fare for the 138,000 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq. "For the first but not the last time, well-armed paramilitary forces — indistinguishable, except for their weapons, from civilians — attacked the squadron," the account notes. The difference now is that the Iraqis have become wilier fighters, increasingly adept at using remote bombs and hit-and-run tactics while avoiding counterattack.
As the insurgency has intensified, so has the scrutiny of the White House over warnings it received before the war that predicted the instability. An examination of prewar intelligence on the possibility of postwar violence and of the administration's response shows:
•Military and civilian intelligence agencies repeatedly warned prior to the invasion that Iraqi insurgent forces were preparing to fight and that their ranks would grow as other Iraqis came to resent the U.S. occupation and organize guerrilla attacks.
•The war plan put together by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks discounted these warnings. Rumsfeld and Franks anticipated surrender by Iraqi ground forces and a warm welcome from civilians.
•The insurgency began not after the end of major combat in May 2003 but at the beginning of the war, yet Pentagon officials were slow to identify the enemy and to grasp how serious a threat the guerrilla attacks posed.
In spite of these warnings, Rumsfeld insists to this day that no one could have predicted the insurgency. Of all the lies circulated by the Boy King and his flying monkeys, this one may be the worst. From this one great lie so many evils flow: The irrational insistence that the war could be fought on the cheap. The dogged determination to ignore warnings from the likes of Gen. Shinseki. The deaf ear that greeted requests from commanders on the ground for additional troops. The failure to secure known munitions sites, including al Qa Qaa, whence 380 tons of high explosives are now missing (note that this amount is equivalent to roughly 760,000 times the amount used to bring down Pan Am Flight 103, and something like 5,000 times the explosive power of the bomb which brought down the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City).
Fact is, they knew, but they didn't care. After all, it wasn't going to be their kids dying alone in the desert.