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ANNOUNCER: It has always been a tough military challenge.
Gen. JACK KEANE (Ret.), Army Vice Chief of Staff, 1999-04: Our chances to succeed in Iraq were just slipping past us.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the parade of generals-
DEXTER FILKINS, The New York Times: The guy in charge of the biggest American war since Vietnam, and nobody knows who he is.
ANNOUNCER: -the battles over strategy-
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, Secretary of State: Our military strategy has to be to clear, hold and build.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The idea that we could do that is so far from reality.
ANNOUNCER: -the political bloodbath-
MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times: Bush is asked, "Will Rumsfeld go?" And he said no, when he already decided to get rid of him.
ANNOUNCER: -and the quest for a way out, the surge.
FREDERICK KAGAN, Military Historian: Total combat force, maybe 35,000 troops.
Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES (Ret.), DoD Counterinsurgency Adviser: You're talking 30,000 troops. That's not a surge, it's a dribble.
Lt. Col. ANDREW KREPINEVICH (Ret.), DoD Consultant: That's a bit of a long shot, but that seems to be the last, best hope for the mission in Iraq.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, Endgame.
MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times: From the day we got in, the plan was to get out at the earliest possible opportunity.
DEXTER FILKINS, The New York Times: The Americans, after they toppled the regime, weren't expecting an insurgency.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Ctr. for Strategic and Intl. Studies: We were to leave within three months
DEXTER FILKINS: We thought the war was over.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Our plan, essentially, was we didn't have a plan.
DEXTER FILKINS: And suddenly, we realized we're still out there.
NEWSCASTER: There's an absence of authority-
NARRATOR: It began with looting, then quickly turned to random bombing. As the violence grew, the leadership was caught off guard.
NEWSCASTER: It is a clear sign that while war might be ending, there is trouble ahead.
DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.
NARRATOR: The secretary of defense, who had pushed to invade Iraq, now showed little desire to occupy the country.
PHILIP ZELIKOW, Counselor, State Department: Secretary Rumsfeld may have been part of the problem, but I think not in the way it's commonly perceived. The pattern that seems more apparent to me is not that Rumsfeld's riding roughshod over his generals, it's that the secretary's actually relatively passive and the office of the secretary of defense is relatively passive, and the dominating role is held by the generals.
NARRATOR: The generals had an endgame. They were going to get out of Iraq as fast as possible.
MICHAEL GORDON: When Tommy Franks got to Baghdad one week after the fall of the capital, he gave guidance to his commanders to prepare to withdraw all but one Army division plus a little extra by September 2003. That was the initial concept.
NARRATOR: And in fact, the top American generals did go home.
THOMAS E. RICKS, The Washington Post: Almost the entire leadership of the U.S. military changes over. General Franks retires, the ground commanders, McKiernan and Wallace, are gone, replaced by the most junior lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, Ricardo Sanchez.
NARRATOR: Sanchez, once a tank division commander, seemed unprepared for an insurgency.
STEPHEN BIDDLE, Council on Foreign Relations: What's going on isn't the maneuver of tank brigades against the Republican Guards, it's car bombings and it's assassinations and it's sniping, and it's all of this stuff that looks like Vietnam.
Col. DOUGLAS MacGREGOR (Ret.), Military strategist: You've got chaos in the country. People don't even know how many troops we have in Iraq. They're not sure where they are. They don't know who's coming and going. There are no uniform or coherent policies.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: We were in a state of denial. We were looking on these as sort of a small group of isolated diehards that we could largely ignore.
DONALD RUMSFELD: [June 24, 2003] In Iraq, difficult work remains. They're making progress against the dead-enders who are harassing coalition forces.
NARRATOR: In truth, neither the generals nor Rumsfeld had designed a strategy Sanchez could use to deal with an insurgency.
Gen. JACK KEANE (Ret.), Army Vice Chief of Staff, 1999-04: It's a shared responsibility, let me say up front, you know, between national civilian leaders and senior military leaders.
NARRATOR: General Jack Keane was acting Army chief of staff. He accepts some of the responsibility for the lack of a plan.
Gen. JACK KEANE: I think it's driven, in part, by my own failures, when I was there as a senior military leader contributing to General Franks's plan, that we never even considered an insurgency as a reasonable option.
THOMAS RICKS: General Keane is really highly admired across the Army. He's a soldier's soldier. And he had argued in "the tank" before the invasion of Iraq, "Don't invade Iraq."
Gen. JACK KEANE: In '03, from a military perspective, from the time we took the regime down, we never made a commitment to secure the population and we never had enough resources to do it.
DEXTER FILKINS: So this insurgency bloomed across the Sunni triangle, and the Americans weren't ready for it.
NEWSCASTER: The White House has been under fire-
NEWSCASTER: Critics say we need to get our troops out of what amounts to a shooting gallery.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: You had a Washington community, like it or not, a president who did not face up to the realities of what was happening.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [March 19, 2004] It's a good thing that the men and women across the Middle East, looking to Iraq, are getting a glimpse of what life in a free country can be like.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: They were constantly spinning everything, put the most favorable possible cast on it, both internationally and the domestic politics. When you went to Iraq, there was no euphoria at all.
NARRATOR: In the spring of 2004, it got worse. Up in the Sunni triangle, in Fallujah, four American contractors were murdered.
Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES (Ret.), DoD Counterinsurgency Adviser: Dragged around and hung off the bridge. Two of the bodies are hung off the bridge. This creates a "We must do something" response.
NARRATOR: The White House wanted revenge. The military for the first time would mount a major assault against the insurgents.
Col. GARY ANDERSON (Ret.), DoD Counterinsurgency Adviser: Marines understand an order. So they shaved off their mustaches, fixed bayonets and went in and did what Marines do best.
Lt. Col. ANDREW KREPINEVICH (Ret.), DoD Consultant: Fallujah becomes kind of an Iraqi Alamo. Only in this case, the defenders survive.
DEXTER FILKINS: Americans were moving into the city. They were killing people. Al Jazeera was showing images, you know, of mosques on fire and civilians, you know, being injured and killed.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: The impression is portrayed that the Americans are going in and wantonly killing civilians along with the insurgents."
DEXTER FILKINS: And it was unsustainable for the Iraqi leadership, which at the time wasn't elected, to continue.
NARRATOR: So the American civilians in charge in Iraq appealed to the president to stop the Marines.
Col. GARY ANDERSON: The same guys who had- a couple of weeks before who had wanted blood, saw a lot of blood, and quite frankly, they- you know, they realized what they had done. So they told the Marines to stop.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: This is a double loss. The Americans look indecisive. They look incompetent. And they also look inhumane in the eyes of a wide number of people in the Middle East.
NARRATOR: That summer was the height of the political season. The president was running for reelection. In the wake of Fallujah and the growing insurgency, more bad news from Iraq was the last thing the Bush team wanted.
NEWSCASTER: The top military officer in Iraq is being replaced.
NEWSCASTER: The Pentagon is expected to replace-
NARRATOR: Rumsfeld acted. Sanchez was out. It was time to try to bring stability to Iraq.
NEWSCASTER: General George Casey, Jr., will take over from three-star general Ricardo Sanchez.
NARRATOR: Rumsfeld reached into the Pentagon bureaucracy for a four-star general and found George Casey.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: We still don't know a lot about General Casey. He is one of the most anonymous senior generals in American military history.
THOMAS RICKS: He's a second generation Army general. His father was a general who died in Vietnam. He goes out to Iraq, yet he's never led troops in combat.
DEXTER FILKINS: Here's a guy in charge of the biggest American war since Vietnam, and nobody knows who he is.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: You can name any major war that the United States has been in, and the principal generals will pop out- you know, General Grant, General Patton, General MacArthur, Eisenhower, Westmoreland, Abrams. Casey?
NARRATOR: Rumsfeld had a new exit strategy. Casey was ordered to train and shift responsibility to the Iraqi army ASAP.
FREDERICK KAGAN: The objective is to get Iraq under control at a basic level, train up Iraqi security forces, turn over responsibility to the government and leave.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [June 28, 2005] Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.
NARRATOR: But standing up the new Iraqi force would take years. Until then, Casey would have to keep the lid on without adding more American troops.
MICHAEL GORDON: Rumsfeld's prescription was to reduce the footprint, not to step up our efforts to win."
DEXTER FILKINS: The challenges were gigantic. You're trying to stand up an army, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious army, in a country that never had much of a national identity to begin with, and you're trying to do that in the middle of a very, very violent insurgency. You know, no small order.
NARRATOR: In late June, General Casey headed for Iraq.
Col. KALEV SEPP (Ret.), Gen. Casey Strategy Adviser: He was competent. This is a man, a four-star general, knows he's a four-star general, knows how to be a four-star general.
FREDERICK KAGAN: When he got there, he found himself in the midst of this incredibly chaotic situation.
Col. WILLIAM HIX, Chief Strategist to Gen. Casey: Violence had escalated back up to a fairly high level, high or higher than it had been prior to April of '04, certainly.
NARRATOR: Colonel William Hix was in General Casey's inner circle.
Col. KALEV SEPP: Colonel Bill Hix was probably the most important colonel in Iraq for over a year. He was essentially General Casey's consigliere.
NARRATOR: Hix made an assessment of what Casey faced. It wasn't pretty.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: He was working with a new embassy, with a new ambassador, Ambassador Negroponte, and he had a very nascent Iraqi government under Iyad Allawi that had tenuous legitimacy.
And he had, in effect, really two insurgencies he had to deal with. He had a Sunni insurgency, and then you had this militia-based Shi'a insurgency under Muqtada Sadr. So it was quite a challenge.
NARRATOR: Inside Casey's headquarters at Camp Victory, they decided to implement the first-ever theater-wide campaign plan. Rumsfeld signed off on it, and it was released to the commanders.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN, The New Republic: The signature in many ways is the phrase "light footprint."
MICHAEL GORDON: Transferring to the Iraqis, withdrawing American troops, consolidating American bases in Iraq, beginning to reduce our footprint. In broad strokes, Rumsfeld and Casey were like-minded on this.
NARRATOR: The light footprint. Much of Casey's force would retreat to large bases and only engage the insurgents when absolutely necessary.
DEXTER FILKINS: And as the Americans stepped back, they were consolidating in these enormous bases. I mean, if you go to, I think, Camp Striker up by Tikrit, you know, there's, like, 17,500 Americans on the base, you know? And there's a, you know, Burger King and a Baskin and Robbins and everything else.
THOMAS RICKS: You had war tourism- units based on big forward operating bases, FOBs, going out and doing patrols from Humvees, usually not foot patrols but mounted patrols, and then coming back to their base. If that's the way you're operating, you're not in the war, you're simply a war tourist.
Gen. JACK KEANE: When you look back on that and analyze it, it's a short-war strategy. Nowhere in there is a plan to defeat the insurgency. So we had no military strategy to defeat the insurgency.
NARRATOR: Casey quickly learned that he didn't have enough troops to nail down all of Iraq.
NEWSCASTER: It's been another violent day-
NEWSCASTER: There's been another deadly car bombing-
NARRATOR: And it was clear Rumsfeld and the Washington generals weren't going to offer a lot more.
NEWSCASTER: Two car bombs exploded in Baghdad-
NARRATOR: And on top of that, it became obvious a fully trained Iraqi force was years away.
NEWSCASTER: Twenty people died in the blast-
NEWSCASTER: -killing at least a dozen people and wounding-
NARRATOR: And almost immediately, there was a challenge to the light footprint strategy. The Shia Mahdi Army of Muqtada al Sadr went on a rampage, forcing Casey to bring his troops out.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: The challenge to the new coalition authority was such that it really couldn't be ignored.
NARRATOR: Casey ordered the army to leave their bases and shut down al Sadr's forces.
DEXTER FILKINS: And I actually was with the Mahdi Army when this battle was going on. And the Americans were kind of, you know, just dropping bombs literally right next to the shrine and just kind of wiping out the Mahdi Army.
NARRATOR: Al Sadr was surrounded, but he had made his point. He had gotten the attention of the Americans, and just as they closed in, he cut a deal.
Maj. THOMAS MOWLE, Gen. Casey strategy Adviser: I don't think it was ever called a ceasefire or a peace agreement, but essentially, it was. Sadr agreed to have his militia not oppose the Americans. We bought back a lot of weapons from his militia. And that part of Baghdad became very peaceful.
NARRATOR: The payoff to al Sadr was substantial. Casey spent $1.2 million buying back some weapons and $330 million more in reconstruction funds.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: Casey's belief is really the larger gain here is politics. And to be fair, this is Washington's belief, too.
NARRATOR: By this time, Casey and Rumsfeld had shifted the emphasis of their endgame and focused on a political solution to Iraq's problems.
Col. KALEV SEPP: The key component that needed to be established was an Iraqi government.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: It's become almost a cliche that, you know, the solution is political. There can only be a political solution.
NARRATOR: A national election had been scheduled. Casey's forces would leave their bases to help create a safe environment for the elections.
Col. KALEV SEPP: So everything came to be focused on the conduct of elections.
Gen. JACK KEANE: The political strategy was to stand up a representative democracy, a representative government, as quickly as possible.
THOMAS RICKS: So the Bush Administration redefined standing up- standing down as they stand up. And what we knew was standing up an Iraqi government, an effective Iraqi government. Well, that had never been the original definition.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The long-term solution is to spread democracy and freedom. Today a democracy is rising in Iraq, and America will stand with those democrats until the job is complete.
NEWSCASTER: At least 35 people have been killed in a huge car bomb attack in Baghdad.
NARRATOR: In Iraq, the political struggle was being fought out in the streets of Baghdad- car bomb after car bomb after car bomb.
NEWSCASTER: Four car bombs went off almost simultaneously this morning-
NEWSCASTER: The attacks came during a busy Baghdad commute-
NEWSCASTER: -shredded everything in their path.
NARRATOR: Ground zero for the Sunni insurgency was only 35 miles away in Fallujah.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: Fallujah becomes a kind of sanctuary for insurgents, for radicals, for al Qaeda elements in Iraq.
DEXTER FILKINS: Bomb factory after bomb factory after bomb factory. I mean, they were just making the car bombs and shipping them to Baghdad.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: The car bombings, the suicide bombings, those kind of things, you could trace them back to Fallujah.
THOMAS RICKS: The problem that Casey faces and his advisers are telling him is, "You're not going to be able to hold elections here as long as Fallujah is out there."
Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: It's a festering wound that will have to be cleared up.
NARRATOR: But inside Casey's inner circle, there were others who thought attacking insurgents in Fallujah sent the wrong signal to moderate Sunnis.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: The issue of Fallujah was really a continual discussion, and there was a great debate about whether or not to do it.
NARRATOR: Colonel Hix had surrounded General Casey with a brain trust- Ph.D.'s, professors from the military academics.
Col. KALEV SEPP: These were all Ph.D.'s, or people with that level of intellect.
Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: It's a bunch of Ph.D.'s who are also very practical military guys.
THOMAS RICKS: Casey takes the huge step of inviting these guys into the tent.
Lt. Col. DONALD G. ROSE (Ret.), Gen. Casey Strategy Adviser: That was the pitch that was given to us- "We've got a big problem here, trying to get our hands around it. We need people from a wide array of disciplines to come take a look at the problem."
Maj. THOMAS MOWLE, Gen. Casey Strategy Adviser: So we discouraged Fallujah. We weren't sure Fallujah was a good idea.
NARRATOR: But others, even Colonel Hix, thought Fallujah had to be taken.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: At the end of the day, when you looked at, you know, things like 22 car bombs in Baghdad on one day, and most of those happened to come from Fallujah-
NEWSCASTER: It was another day of carnage and mayhem in Iraq. Three went off in Baghdad inside the space of half an hour.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: -it became clear that we couldn't leave that den of vipers untouched until the election.
NARRATOR: Casey took the arguments on board. For weeks, the military waited.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [November 3, 2004] I want to thank my superb campaign team. I want to thank the architect, Karl Rove.
NARRATOR: Then November 8th-
Gen. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. Commander in Iraq: Tonight, Iraqi security and coalition forces kicked off offensive operations in Fallujah.
DEXTER FILKINS, The New York Times: We went into Fallujah at about 10:00 PM, and the fighting started immediately. It's pitch black outside. And we all started piling out of the troop carriers. We went in on foot, and you could see the RPGs sailing out of the city towards us. And I thought, "My God," you know, "what have we gotten into here?"
The fighting then unfolded for 16 hours. Didn't stop. The end of 16 hours, the company I was with had advanced into the city about two blocks. That's how intense it was.
THOMAS RICKS: Fallujah 2, first of all, is an extraordinary, difficult and violent battle, I think the most intense combat U.S. forces had seen, certainly, since the Vietnam war.
DEXTER FILKINS: The Americans killed hundreds of insurgents. The unit that I was with, Bravo company of the 18 Marines, about 150 guys- at the end of a week, they had 25 percent casualties, dead or wounded, one week. I mean, that's how intense it was.
THOMAS RICKS: It was really rough fighting in Fallujah.
Col. KALEV SEPP: Much of the city was simply flattened by the attack.
Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: Fallujah is, at that point, a victory for the United States.
DEXTER FILKINS: The city was basically destroyed after that.
NARRATOR: There was jubilation among many of the commanders. They believed the insurgency had been irreparably harmed.
Gen. GEORGE CASEY: With the liberation of Fallujah, they no longer have any safe havens anywhere in Iraq. And it was driven home to them that they cannot defeat the coalition forces.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: I think there's a resurgence of optimism and that the worst is behind us.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: In the battle for Fallujah, the terrorists hid weapons in the cemetery. They hid ammunition in private homes. They hid bombs in mosques. But they could not hide from the United States Marines!
NARRATOR: But Fallujah's Sunni refugees carried dark tales of what they described as a brutal American assault.
U.S. SOLDIER: Are there Marines in there?
NARRATOR: And on satellite TV, this, footage from Fallujah of an American soldier shooting a wounded and unarmed man.
U.S. SOLDIER: He's [deleted] faking he's dead!
SOLDIER: Yeah, he's breathing.
SOLDIER: He's faking he's [deleted] dead!
SOLDIER: [shoots] He's dead now.
NARRATOR: Casey's goal, cleaning out Fallujah to pave the way for democratic elections, may have backfired.
Col. THOMAS MOWLE: Ultimately, if you draw out all the events that followed Fallujah, that certainly decreased the Sunni Arab support. And in that sense, it did help the insurgency and it did turn people to be more violently opposed to the American presence than they had been before.
NARRATOR: In those weeks before the election, a quiet anticipation settled over Iraq.
Lt. Col. DONALD G. ROSE (Ret.), Gen. Casey Strategy Adviser: Everything was looking towards 30 January, 2005.
DEXTER FILKINS: I got up that morning at 7:00 o'clock. I went out in the streets, and there was no vehicular traffic allowed anywhere in the country.
Lt. Col. DONALD ROSE: It was a day of incredible tension.
DEXTER FILKINS: So the streets were empty. And I remember thinking, "Oh, my God, no one's going to come out to vote." People started to trickle out. By 10:30 in the morning, there were thousands and thousands and thousands of people out to vote.
Lt. Col. DONALD ROSE: The stories that started coming in about millions of Iraqis lining up to vote were quite encouraging.
DEXTER FILKINS: And it was a really extraordinary thing, people wearing their best clothes, husbands and wives with their children, people lining up.
Lt. Col. DONALD ROSE: And the pictures of the people with the purple fingers started to be broadcast around.
NARRATOR: There were celebrations. But something had been overlooked.
DEXTER FILKINS: If you look at the January election, it was a big turnout, but the Sunnis didn't vote.
NARRATOR: As the votes were being counted, Casey's Ph.D.'s knew there was a problem.
Lt. Col. DONALD ROSE: The effects of the Sunni boycott were available reasonably soon.
Maj. THOMAS MOWLE: We never imagined that a boycott by the Sunni Arabs could be that complete. It appears that overall Sunni Arab turnout was probably about 10 percent.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Ctr. for Strategic and Intl. Studies: Everybody understood very quickly we'd elected a government that divided the country. And everyone who had to work in the Green Zone or the area knew that beneath this political structure, there was a virtual vacuum.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: And so in that vacuum, the insurgency began to step back up in an effort to undermine that political process and undermine the legitimacy of the new government.
Gen. JACK KEANE: When we did not secure the population, the enemy realized that the population was fair game. We were not securing them. The Iraqis couldn't do it yet. So what did they do? They began to kill people.
NARRATOR: The administration told a different story.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: [May 30, 2005] I think the level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally.
Gen. JACK KEANE: The rhetoric that the president was evidencing in his remarks- he would use terms like ""win," "We're going to defeat the insurgents," "victory"- that all- that all would lend itself to a military strategy whose purpose was to defeat the insurgency. We never had that as a mission in Iraq.
[www.pbs.org: Gen. Keane's extended interview]
NARRATOR: In the absence of an effective military strategy, the new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, decided she would go one on one with Rumsfeld and the generals.
THOMAS RICKS: In '04, Rumsfeld had intruded so much into the area of the secretary of state that what Rice begins to do in '05 is intrude into the area of the secretary of defense.
NARRATOR: On one Sunday morning, in her first round of public appearances as secretary of state, Rice stepped into the fray.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, Sec. of State: ["Face the Nation," January 30, 2005] And so the message should be to the Iraqi people, "We intend to finish the job."
["Late Edition," January 30, 2005] I really believe that we should not put artificial timetables on this. We really need to finish the job.
["This Week," January 30, 2005] My response to all of the talk of what we might do is to say let's- let's do the job.
NARRATOR: Secretary Rice even sent one of her closest confidants to Iraq.
PHILIP ZELIKOW, Counselor, State Department: I ended up going to Iraq about a dozen times over a couple of years.
THOMAS RICKS: It's unusual for the secretary of state to be obtaining his or her own military assessment of events.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: In Iraq, the central government didn't really take off the way we had hoped it would. It began giving way to a lot of sectarian impulses and other problems. So the central government was faltering.
NARRATOR: But it was Casey and Rumsfeld's "light footprint" and reliance on Iraqi forces that Rice's aide, Zelikow, found wanting.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: It seemed to be a strategy, the dominant theme of which, this is an exit strategy. And the objective of an exit strategy is to exit, and then you don't really develop any strategy for success independent of exit.
NARRATOR: Up the Tigris River, near the Syrian border, there was an example of a much different approach in the city of Tal Afar.
Col. H.R. McMASTER, Commander, Tal Afar, 2005-06: The situation when we got into Tal Afar was- was very bleak. The enemy had essentially established control over the city. This was sort of a franchise operation of al Qaeda in Iraq.
NARRATOR: Colonel H.R. McMaster's strategy was to systematically clear sections of the city. Then U.S. troops stayed and secured the population and focused on rebuilding. It was known as "Clear, hold and build."
THOMAS RICKS: It meant having outposts across the city, so that your good intentions were backed up by actions, that people who allied themselves with you were not then killed when they went home because you had troops out there, watching for insurgents and protecting people.
Col. H.R. McMASTER: What is amazing is once you're able to lift the pall of fear off of these populations, how life just flows back into these cities. But what's important is to keep security there because we're battling a very ruthless, a murderous enemy, who's determined to come back into these areas.
[www.pbs.org: Col. McMaster's extended interview]
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: The lesson of Tal Afar was that you had to be in the city among the population, living there in small units.
NARRATOR: Despite McMaster's success, "Clear, hold, build" was not implemented throughout Iraq.
Gen. JACK KEANE: What McMaster did in Tal Afar was certainly the right thing to do, but it was sheer force of will on his part. I mean, in a sense, he was fighting a much larger policy.
NARRATOR: It was seen firsthand by Secretary Rice's envoy, Philip Zelikow.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: It was suggestive of what was possible with a lot of investment of effort and manpower in a relatively small area.
THOMAS RICKS: He goes up to Tal Afar, he sits down with Colonel H. R. McMaster, and he actually picks up that phrase, "Clear, hold and build." He says, "Oh, actually, there is a strategy that's working out here, it's just not anything that anybody in the Pentagon seems to be aware of."
PHILIP ZELIKOW: What's remarkable about Tal Afar is, why isn't that being done in different forms all over the country?
NEWSCASTER: They've retaken this city from terrorist members of al Qaeda in Iraq-
NARRATOR: Zelikow passed the word on to Rice in the State Department. "Clear, hold, build" could be a strategy for victory.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: My argument was that we needed to make another major push on Iraq with a much stronger and more articulated strategy to succeed, and resource what it would take to succeed.
[www.pbs.org: Zelikow's extended interview]
NARRATOR: Rice agreed. She would champion "Clear, hold, build" before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Secretary of State proposing military policy was a direct and very public challenge to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: [October 19, 2005] Our political military strategy has to be clear, hold and build- to clear areas from insurgent control, to hold them securely, and to build durable national Iraqi institutions.
NARRATOR: Rumsfeld was not happy.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: I heard later that the secretary of defense was upset. And I heard, actually, that General Casey was upset, that here we were trying to articulate strategy. That was their job.
REPORTER: [November 29, 2005] There have been some critics who have said that you don't have enough troops to do this clear, hold and build strategy.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Please, let me just- stop right there. Anyone who takes those three words and thinks it means the United States should clear and the United States should hold and the United States should build doesn't understand the situation. It is the Iraqis' country. They've got 28 million people there. They are clearing, they are holding, they are building. They're going to be the ones doing the reconstruction in that country!
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary-
DONALD RUMSFELD: And we do not have- with the 160,000 troops there, the idea that we could do that is so far from reality. Nor was there any intention that we should do that.
REPORTER: Senator McCain is suggesting you don't have enough troops-
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I am confident in our plan for victory. I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people. I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning!
NEWSCASTER: -detonating just after 7:00 AM this morning underneath the golden dome of the Askaria mosque in the town of Samarra.
NEWSCASTER: The golden dome turned to rubble.
NEWSCASTER: -one of the country's most holy Shi'ite religious shrines.
NEWSCASTER: A huge explosion nearly completely destroyed one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: I think the February 22nd bombing of the Samarra mosque will be remembered as this war's Tet.
MICHAEL GORDON: A kind of a diabolical attempt by al Qaeda to stimulate a civil war and to create a conflict between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis, making Iraq essentially ungovernable and chaotic and an entity that the Americans can no longer control.
Col. WILLIAM HIX: That bombing in Samarra broke the floodgates.
NARRATOR: The Sadr militia's impulse for revenge was unleashed.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: All bets are off. The Shia begin to fight back with the Sunni, and what was a one-sided insurgency becomes a two-sided civil war.
NARRATOR: Sectarian-inspired executions rose from almost 200 in January to more than 700 in March.
Gen. JACK KEANE: They got the overreaction that they wanted on the part of the Shi'a militias, drive the level of violence up higher than it had ever been, and bring it to a state where it would be fractured, start to fall apart, disintegrate. The United States has to leave under those kind of conditions, and they begin to achieve their political objectives, in their mind.
NARRATOR: The administration's response was to initiate a war of words.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraqis have shown the world they want a future of freedom and peace.
Gen. GEORGE CASEY: [March 19, 2006] Violence is not raging rampantly across Iraq.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: [March 19, 2006] My view would be they've reached a stage of desperation, from their standpoint.
Gen. GEORGE CASEY: [March 19, 2006] -that the country is not awash in sectarian violence.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [March 21, 2006] Americans have never retreated in the face of thugs and assassins, and we will not begin now.
NARRATOR: But the president's approval ratings were in freefall.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN, , Ctr. for Strategic and Intl. Studies: The administration, which had been denying that there was a civil war or a serious civil conflict, suddenly couldn't ignore it anymore.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: This was the period in which the White House crystallized its views.
NARRATOR: Some of the White House staff were supporting the idea being championed by Condoleezza Rice, "Clear, hold, build," and now they wanted to get the president on board.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: There was a lot of pressure by the early summer of 2006 to try to get a fundamental war council in which the president would take a hard, roots-up look at what we're doing in Iraq.
NARRATOR: They pinned their hopes on a June meeting with the president at Camp David.
MICHAEL GORDON: This Camp David meeting, in the view of the staff at the State Department and the NSC, was really intended to be the beginning of a much more serious administration review.
NARRATOR: Well-known military scholars were brought to Camp David from Washington think tanks.
FREDERICK KAGAN: It was a very cool experience. They flew me up on a Chinook, which is in itself a cool experience, to fly along the Potomac like that. Honestly, I went there just, you know, eager to have the opportunity to lay a plan before the president, to say, "Let us," you know, "seize hold of this opportunity." I had published an article advocating conducting a major clear and hold operation, basically coming down the river valleys toward Baghdad, modeled on the Tal Afar operation that had been so successful in the previous fall.
NARRATOR: A version of Colonel McMaster's Tal Afar plan - clear, hold, build - had been taken directly to the president.
FREDERICK KAGAN: I felt that I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and that he was going to make the decision he was going to make.
NARRATOR: But as the staff looked forward to buttoning down the strategy, the president caught them by surprise.
MICHAEL GORDON: The whole event is somewhat truncated. President Bush sneaks out the back door and goes on a clandestine trip to Iraq.
NARRATOR: The team that had assembled at Camp David were left to watch the event on secure video screens.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: The substantive review of the strategy that some of us who had been supporting the Camp David sessions had hoped for- that didn't really unfold.
MICHAEL GORDON: All of a sudden, remember, he materializes in Baghdad, and he goes to see Maliki and look him in the eye. And this becomes a big media event at the time.
NARRATOR: The president wanted assurances from the new Iraqi prime minister that the strategy of Iraqis taking responsibility for their own security was workable. The president was in Iraq for five-and-a-half hours.
NEWSCASTER: The White House originally said President Bush and his top aides would be at Camp David again today.
NEWSCASTER: President Bush's trip to Baghdad today caught almost everyone by surprise.
NEWSCASTER: Only the vice president, the secretary of state and defense secretary were told ahead of time-
NARRATOR: After the president returned to Washington, there was no major shift in Iraq policy.
FREDERICK KAGAN: I was disappointed with how the strategy developed after that point and the apparent unwillingness to reconsider it fundamentally.
NARRATOR: Last summer, as Republicans in Congress were fighting for their political lives in the mid-term elections, General Casey made an announcement.
MICHAEL GORDON: It's another version of his plan to draw down American forces in Iraq.
Gen. GEORGE CASEY: [June 22, 2006] The baseline was 138. We're down to about a 126 right now. That's 12,000. That's- whether that's substantial enough, I'll leave to your judgment. But as I said, I think there'll be continued gradual reductions here as the Iraqis take on a larger and larger role.
NARRATOR: The president was staying the course, betting the outcome of the mid-term elections on the light footprint.
DEXTER FILKINS: For me, what I remember from the summer of '06 was simply the collapse of order in Baghdad.
THOMAS RICKS: I think, actually, violence was much worse.
DEXTER FILKINS: There's so many different ways to die there, and it was all kind of happening. It was all unraveling.
NARRATOR: Within days, the fires in Baghdad consumed Casey's plan to bring some of the troops home.
MICHAEL GORDON: Within a matter of weeks, this plan is shelved. We're moving in precisely the opposite direction.
NARRATOR: The White House and the Pentagon went back to the drawing board for yet another plan.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: The White House and the president intervene to reset the assumptions.
NARRATOR: They would try a limited version of clear, hold, build. Casey moved his troops off the bases and into Baghdad.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: If you could secure Baghdad, you could secure the country. It would be the paradigm or the model that would somehow spread outwards.
NARRATOR: They called it Operation Together Forward 2. It required the infusion of more American troops, but there were only a few thousand available.
Gen. JACK KEANE: Once we had made up our minds that we were going to clear, but we didn't have enough resources to hold, I knew the operation would fail.
THOMAS RICKS: The U.S. answer becomes, "OK, we can clear, then the Iraqi troops will hold."
NARRATOR: But many of the promised Iraqi troops never deployed to the capital.
MICHAEL GORDON: There's this very frustrating effort to get the Iraqis to send troops to Baghdad.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: Iraqi brigades are not being committed. The government withholds them.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: We couldn't trust the Iraqi police, although we said we would, and we really couldn't trust most of the Iraqi army.
Gen. JACK KEANE: Our chances to succeed in Iraq were just slipping past us. We needed to change the strategy, or else this thing was going to go off a cliff.
[www.pbs.org: Timeline of tactical and strategic errors]
NARRATOR: The failure of Operation Together Forward 2 sent a shock wave through the Republican Party.
DONALD RUMSFELD: [October 26, 2006] Well, it's a political season, and everyone's trying to make a little mischief out of this and make - turn it into a political football and see if we can't get it on the front page.
NARRATOR: Many congressional Republicans were begging the president to throw Rumsfeld overboard.
DONALD RUMSFELD: So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult.
NARRATOR: In mid-September, retired general Jack Keane, the man known as Rumsfeld's favorite general, was invited to a private meeting with the secretary.
Gen. JACK KEANE: We had a very frank discussion. There was a sense of frustration that was not in his words but in his body language, and a sense of also general resignation about things. By every indicator, you know, the strategy was failing, and I think that's what he was indicating to me in body language.
NEWSCASTER: Democrats took control of the House for the first time in 12 years.
NEWSCASTER: Democrats will have the upper hand in the new Congress.
NARRATOR: The pundits blamed the president's Iraq war policy.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [November 8, 2006] Say, why all the glum faces? Look, this was a close election. If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close, it was a thumpin'.
NARRATOR: They expected the president to back off, maybe begin to withdraw, but he was determined to go the other way. The "light footprint" was a thing of the past, and so was Don Rumsfeld.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: -Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that the timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon.
NARRATOR: Rumsfeld's departure was viewed as a victory for anti-war forces, but there was another way to look at it.
MICHAEL GORDON: Rumsfeld's proposals and Democratic proposals are essentially the same thematically, something the Democrats never realized.
INTERVIEWER: A certain irony there, huh?
MICHAEL GORDON: Yeah. When they were pushing for his ouster, they actually lost the most senior ally that they had.
NARRATOR: Now the president wanted to hear more about "clear, hold, build." As it happened, General Jack Keane was a strong advocate.
Gen. JACK KEANE: I got called by the White House to come see the president and to give him my views, with others, in terms of the way ahead in Iraq.
NARRATOR: General Keane presented a strategy he had crafted with military historian Frederick Kagan.
FREDERICK KAGAN: The plan, in a nutshell, looks at the problem of Baghdad and it says, "OK, the problem with Baghdad right now is the sectarian violence, which we need to get under control."
NARRATOR: Keane's plan for the president began with a simple, basic military tactic.
Gen. JACK KEANE: I told him that you didn't have to deal with the entire six million population of Baghdad. If you draw a circle around Baghdad and then draw a line down the middle, that's the Tigris River. And then draw a circle inside the larger circle of Baghdad. On the east side of the Tigris River within the circle, is Sunni/Shi'a neighborhoods, and on the west side are also Sunni/Shia mixed neighborhoods.
FREDERICK KAGAN: There were about 23 neighborhoods that we came up with. Then we said, "How much force do you need to put down in one of these neighborhoods, to clear and hold it based on Tal Afar, based on operations we've seen, based on traditional military planning?"
Gen. JACK KEANE: The mission would be to go in and secure those neighborhoods initially- 1.8 million people. And it gives you an opportunity to realize that that circle within the larger circle is, in fact, key terrain. And that key terrain affords you the opportunity to protect the Shias and the Sunnis at the same time.
NARRATOR: Keane told the president each neighborhood would need one battalion, about 1,000 soldiers, to clear and hold it, a "surge."
FREDERICK KAGAN: Net surge was going to be a total of five Army brigade combat teams and two Marine regimental combat teams. Total combat force, maybe 35,000 troops.
NARRATOR: It was a fundamental departure, tens of thousands of new troops clearing Sunni insurgents and Shia militia door to door. There could be much higher casualties on all sides.
Gen. JACK KEANE: I told him that we were in a crisis, that time was running out. Status quo doesn't work. Strengthening the Iraqi security forces by themselves doesn't work. Any timetable withdrawal doesn't work. Immediate withdrawal doesn't work. So you needed literally time, but we were out of time.
NARRATOR: When the meeting ended, General Keane and Frederick Kagan were invited into the office of the vice president.
Gen. JACK KEANE: What we did for about an hour or so is flushed (SIC) out the details of what I provided in conceptual form to the president.
THOMAS RICKS: Dick Cheney is the Moby Dick of the Bush administration. And it's all very mysterious and it only occurs between him and President Bush, but you get a sense that as soon as the meeting's over, he sits down with the president and says, "OK, here's what you need to take away from this."
Gen. JACK KEANE: That evening, one of the vice president's advisers called me and said that the meeting in the White House with the president was decisive. And as a result of that, this operation is probably going to go forward.
NEWSCASTER: Perhaps as early as Wednesday night, President Bush will announce details to send more troops to war.
NEWSCASTER: The troop surge- increasing ground forces in Iraq.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [January 10, 2007] Good evening.
NARRATOR: Then the president of the United States presented the plan to the nation.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops-
Gen. JACK KEANE: He made a significantly profound statement.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: -and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.
Gen. JACK KEANE: He owned up to the American people that the current strategy was failing,
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security, especially in Baghdad.
MICHAEL GORDON: We try to do something that we really haven't done that effectively in Baghdad, which is actually protect the people who live there. This is a very tall order.
Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: If you're talking 20,000 or 30,00 troops over the next X number of months, that's not a surge, it's a dribble. You're going to dribble more forces in and hope it has some impact.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: Vietnam, after all, we were debating sending- you know, whether to send 200,000 more troops or not. I think even with 20,000 more troops, i.e., you don't have enough troops to hold.
Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: To truly surge, we would need to put 150,000 more men in there and keep them for multiple years, and then be prepared to replace them.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can and we will prevail.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: The bet in Baghdad is, "Look, if we can secure by far the largest, the most ethnically diverse city in Iraq, why can't we go on to secure the other cities?"
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you, and good night.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: That's a bit of a long shot, but that seems to be the last best hope for the mission in Iraq.
NEWSCASTER: In his speech from the White House, President Bush laid out what he called a new plan for the U.S. mission in Iraq.
NEWSCASTER: Democrats on Capitol Hill are vowing to oppose-
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: This, I think again, was a triumph, to some extent, of hope over experience.
NARRATOR: And as for General Casey, who served in Iraq for 32 months, he was left to face an angry Congress.
[February 1, 2007]
Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R), Arizona: General Casey, I do question some of the decisions and judgments you've made over the past two-and-a-half years as commander of multi-national forces in Iraq-
-a failed policy, and we are not winning.
Gen. GEORGE CASEY: Senator, I do not agree that we have a failed policy.
Sen. JOHN McCAIN: So you disagree with the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Admiral Fallon that we had a failed policy?
Gen. GEORGE CASEY: I do, Senator.
Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I see.
Gen. GEORGE CASEY: I do not believe that the current policy has failed.
NARRATOR: General Casey was promoted to chief of staff of the United States Army.
LAWRENCE KAPLAN: It's a traditional consolation prize, I think, is becoming Army chief of staff. McNamara became head of the World Bank. So did Wolfowitz. What was Westmoreland's job after he was fired in Vietnam? He became Army chief of staff.
NARRATOR: To replace Casey, the president picked the Army's most outspoken advocate of "clear, hold, build," General David Petraeus.
THOMAS RICKS: I think the commonality in the new crew is the willingness to take one last shot at this. At the same time, there's an element of realism that runs through them. Petraeus wrote his Ph.D. at Princeton on the French in Vietnam.
NARRATOR: Petraeus built a brain trust of his own in the Green Zone. General Keane regularly visits, and so does that colonel from Tal Afar, H.R. McMaster.
Col. H.R. McMASTER, Commander, Tal Afar, 2005-06: We're at a critical point in Iraq for a number of reasons. We risk the Iraqi people becoming exhausted from the violence. It's also critical in terms of the American people and their faith in the effort.
NEWSCASTER: -now the deadliest month for U.S. forces so far this-
NEWSCASTER: -incinerated cars litter the streets where a massive bomb exploded at a Baghdad marketplace.
NEWSCASTER: Some kind of explosion went off. The Iraq- parliament was-
PHILIP ZELIKOW: We're nowhere near the endgame. The only way we're near the endgame is if we decide that Iraq's no longer going to be our problem and we're just going to get out.
NARRATOR: The surge will be at full force by the 4th of July. The generals say they'll know about its effectiveness by September. Until then, Baghdad and Washington can only wait.
THOMAS RICKS: I think it's a long way from here, whatever the endgame is. Shakespearean tragedies have five acts. I think we're only in act three. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are still alive. I don't think it's going to end well. I don't know how it's going to end. I think it's going to be messy.
Gen. JACK KEANE: There's so much at stake here. You don't truly know if you're right anyway, to be honest about it. I think we should be honest. You know, you put your mind on it, you analyze it as best you can, you put forward what you believe needs to be done. You know it's challenging and you're not certain of any outcome here. But in my judgment, and I still stand by it, I think it is the only answer at this point in terms of where we are.
DEXTER FILKINS: In the classic arc of Greek tragedy, the hero rises to great heights, and then he's brought down by hubris, his own hubris.
And I remember thinking, "Well," you know, "we went through that part of it." And except in this particular narrative, the hero has gathered himself and seen his errors and tried to get everything right. And maybe it's too late.
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ANNOUNCER: This report continues on FRONTLINE's Web site, where you'll find the full program available for viewing again, a chronology of the military and political struggle to find a strategy for success in Iraq, extended interviews with key theorists behind the surge, analysis of how senior military commanders have conducted the war. Then join the discussion at PBS.organization.
Next time on FRONTLINE/World: In Aceh, Indonesia, Orlando de Guzman returns to the site of a massacre and finds an unexpected peace left in the wake of the tsunami. In the Faroe Islands, like their Viking ancestors, they live off the sea, but pollution is threatening their way of life. And hero rats in Tanzania, on the next FRONTLINE/World.
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