Military Assesses Unexpected Resistance, Length of War
His comments brought a cautious response from U.S. military authorities, who countered that coalition forces were roughly on track with the schedule outlined in the military’s pre-war plan.
Asked by Post reporter Rick Atkinson, whether the past week’s military combat had increased the likelihood of a “much longer war” than some planners had forecast, Wallace reportedly said, “It’s beginning to look that way.”
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not specifically respond to Wallace’s assessment, saying he had not read the article.
“I suppose everyone can have their own view,” Rumsfeld told the Pentagon press conference.
Commanders both on the ground in Iraq and at the Pentagon also discussed what many analysts have said is the surprising intensity of resistance among Iraqi forces.
“The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d war-gamed against,” Wallace told the Washington Post.
“The attacks we’re seeing are bizarre — technical vehicles [pickups] with .50 calibers and every kind of weapon charging tanks and Bradleys [Fighting Vehicles],” Wallace added. “It’s disturbing to think that someone can be that brutal.”
The defense secretary said he was not surprised by the actions of people he said had helped keep the Saddam Hussein regime in power.
“It seems to me a careful reading of Amnesty International or the record of Saddam Hussein having used chemical weapons on his own people as well as his neighbors and the viciousness of that regime, which is well known and documented by human rights organizations, ought not be a surprise,” Rumsfeld told reporters.
But officials did say they may have underestimated both the Iraqi regime’s ability to fight and intensity of its tactics.
“Everybody’s frame of reference is changing,” Col. Ben Hodges, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 101st, said in the same Washington Post article. “The enemy always gets a vote. You fight the enemy and not the plan. I personally underestimated the willingness of the Fedayeen to fight, or maybe overestimated the willingness of the Shiites to rise up.”
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz added that what had been misjudged was the cruelty of the Iraqi leaders.
“We probably did underestimate the willingness of this regime to commit war crimes,” Wolfowitz said to reporters at the Foreign Press Center. “I don’t think we anticipated so many people who would pretend to surrender and then shoot. I don’t think we anticipated such a level of execution squads inside Basra.”
Despite the differing views of the potential length of the war, Wallace, Rumsfeld and the Central Command in Qatar all agreed the troops were where the initial plans hoped they would be a week into the war.
Gen. Wallace’s interview sparked a flurry of debate on the morning news programs, with numerous military experts assessing the likelihood of a long war.
Rumsfeld, while not specifically addressing the Washington Post piece and its discussion, said he was struck by the radical mood swings of the national media.
“We have seen mood swings in the media from highs to lows to highs and back again, sometimes in a single 24-hour period,” he said. “Fortunately my sense is that the American people have a very good center of gravity and can absorb and balance what they see and hear.”