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As commander of the U.S. Army's 5th Corps, General Wallace led the Army forces in the allied invasion of Iraq. In this interview he discusses the level of Iraqi resistance encountered, the issue of allied force flow, and some of the key events, such as the breakthrough in the Karbala Gap in preparation for the advance on Baghdad. He also talks about the point at which "we broke the back of the regime" and the postwar shock of realizing that, "when [we] decapitated the regime, everything below it fell apart."

interview: Lt. Gen. William Scott Wallace
The fanaticism and  suicidal nature of the paramilitary surprised me.  I was also surprised they seemed to be attacking out of the towns, and along our main supply routes.

When did your planning for this conflict actually begin? ...

Our planning in the 5th Corps actually started in November of [2001], when we were given direction to start looking at the possibility of operations in Iraq. And that planning continued for well over a year. The planning itself seemed, in my recollection, to intensify in the late summer [to] early fall of 2002. ...

General Franks was happy with the troop levels. ... Were you?

.. I guess that, as summer [arrived], I wasn't real comfortable with the troop levels. But I was comfortable with the degree of training of those forces that were available to us. And I was comfortable, interestingly, with the amount of support that we'd been promised by the United States Air Force, which could overcome some of our shortcomings on the ground.

... As war began, how many troops did you have ... to do the job, and how does that compare with Desert Storm?

... I would say between 90,000 and 100,000 troops. And that's perhaps about a third of what we had in Desert Storm.

But in Desert Storm, all we were trying to do [was to] liberate Kuwait. On this occasion, we're going all the way to Baghdad and yet we've got roughly a third as many troops. What's the logic of that?

... First of all, there was recognition that we had a joint force synergy in this operation that we didn't have during Desert Storm -- a joint force synergy meant that the Air Force, the Marine air wing, the aviation capabilities of the Navy, and the ground formations could, if properly employed, complement each other better than we had previously. ... We'd actually be doing integrated, multi-service operations.

The second thing ... [was that] the terrain just didn't lend itself to large formations moving cross-country. ... There is no desert there; it's not desert anymore. It's much more complex terrain. ... And then you [have] the complexity of the urban terrain the closer that you got to Baghdad, which seemed to indicate that you needed to focus your efforts in the place where you really wanted to penetrate and have an effect, rather than spread out large formations over a wide area. I think we also had the understanding and the recognition that some of our intelligence capabilities -- unmanned aerial vehicles, in particular, [and perhaps our radar systems] -- would give us some indication of where the enemy was and, importantly, where we was not. So we didn't have to worry about where he wasn't; we only had to worry about where he was. ...

Where we had a problem that had to be dealt with on the ground -- with the tactical commander -- is that at brigade level and below. Although we knew where the enemy was in general terms, we didn't know much about specifics. We didn't know [the] numbers of [enemy] tanks; we didn't know numbers of infantrymen; we didn't have a very good picture of how his defenses were being established. So in military speak, the fights at levels below the brigade level, and even at brigade level, became a "movement to contact," where you had to move in contact with the enemy, find out where he was, [and] apply what [artillery] were available for both the Army and Air Force against that enemy to enable you to further maneuver. ...

In terms of our knowledge of the position of the opposition, of the enemy, are we really that far advanced from previous conflicts?

Well, I think in terms of sharing information, we are. But as this enemy and other enemies have learned to appreciate the technological advantages we have, they've also learned to try to obviate those technological advantages by not moving, which means they can't get picked up by [radar]. By using camouflage and deception to protect those formations that they do have ... it becomes very hard to penetrate through these large palm groves where some of their equipment was hidden. So I think there's this point/ counterpoint that's going on amongst the technologically advanced nations of the world, and those that are less advanced try to figure out what kind of non-technological advantage [they can establish] by attempting to defeat some of our technologies with some very simple techniques.

Like parking under a palm tree?

Like parking under a palm tree. Like putting camouflage over a vehicle. Many of our sensor systems are based on thermal imagery. So if you take a can of charcoal and light it, and warm up a piece of metal from a thermal imaging site, it may look like something important when in fact it's just a chunk of metal with a fire underneath it. ...

[Did] we not detect the Iraqi forces, to some extent, because they weren't there? ...

[As we got] closer to Baghdad, we expected a tougher fight. We expected the Republican Guard to be the formation that we were going to have to deal with, and we expected it to be a much more difficult and much more resolute defense. What it turned out to be was a few organizations that fought very small engagements, albeit somewhat violent. But in terms of a coherent defense, in terms of an entire enemy division ... which was coming from the west, it just didn't appear to us.

And what we found when we got up there was a large number of abandoned vehicles, a large number of vehicles that had apparently been struck by either coalition [forces], or coalition air power, or army aviation, or our own direct fire systems, or our own indirect fire systems that appeared to have been abandoned when they were struck. It seemed to me that the will of the enemy to fight seemed to decay rather rapidly, which is something we didn't anticipate nor should we have anticipated. ...

I'd like to just go back to the prewar period. There were two issues. Firstly, the troop levels. [Secondly,] rather than having [every troop] there and ready to go, as in Desert Storm, we have this system of flow. ...

Well, the problem with the flow in this war, compared to Desert Storm, was we were dealing with a single port -- a single airport, a single seaport, and a single aerial port. And you're trying to take a very large formation through the eye of a needle. As I recall ... [a port where we staged operations] in Kuwait could handle four deep draft vessels at one time. The airfield at Kuwait International could only handle a limited number of wide-bodied aircraft at a particular time. I remember a particular time, during the pre-war stage, where the fuel reserves at the Kuwait International Airport dropped to the emergency level; that is, you couldn't bring aircraft in because there wasn't enough fuel to refuel them to fly them back out again. So the flow of forces was an issue of capabilities of the region to accept forces in the numbers that we wanted, as much as it was a strategic or tactical decision to attack with lesser forces. ...

... There was this notion that if there [were] any kind of catastrophic failure in any place along the flow, particularly at the airfield or the seaport, then we would have a major problem. And when I say [major], I'm talking about a scud attack, or perhaps a major offensive operation on the part of some terrorist organization. Something of that ilk could've caused us some real problems, and of course we were all alert to that. We had our defenses up. We had a very good protective capability within both the Kuwaiti and the U.S. Patriot air defense umbrella ... . I think all of that helped to protect us. But there was still something in the back of everybody's mind that said, at any time, these very tenuous lines of communication could be interrupted. ...

I've been told by people, just generally, that the logistical apparatus was not in place in the Pentagon for the speed of flow that was required. ...

... We planned the flow of forces by the Time-Phased Force and Deployment [List], or TPFDL. In fact, that scheme of flow really wasn't executed. We ended up executing on a series of requests for forces, which were requested from the combat formations... and in my understanding, they had to be justified through the Joint Staff and up to the Secretariat. So it became a seemingly more difficult process because you had to justify individual formations, and that had something to do with the level of logistics support that we had. We had to make some tough choices, such as did you flow a POL truck company [if] you knew that you needed to move fuel to the force. Or, could you interrupt the flow of that truck company in order to bring an MP in, [and] you knew you were going to need [a flow of trucks] in some of the southern cities as you liberated them. Or, did you want to bring in a civil affairs organization that you knew was going to have to be involved in the stability and support operations in the south, [even] as we were continuing to fight in the north.

... At some point, around the first of the year, as I recall, it became exclusively a process of requesting forces for a specific mission, and specific time, rather than an automatic stack of forces that would flow in order, based on some predisposed plan. ...

... The Apache raid, which is that night, comes hot on the heels of the 507th [U.S. Army Infantry being ambushed in Nasiriya].

That [Apache raid] was [by] the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment, that evening [of] the 23rd or 24th of March, hot on the heels of the incident with the 507th, [and] preceded a horrible period of weather. And [that was] the low point of the campaign, from my perspective. ... [It started when] an aircraft, upon takeoff, had a mechanical problem and crashed. Didn't injure any of the crewmen, but one of the aircraft just didn't take off. Or, when it did, it had a mechanical problem. So that was [the first thing] that didn't go right. ...

Why was it so important, this attack?

We were focused on the regime. The regime resided in Baghdad, and the Medina Division sat between us and Baghdad. And it was my understanding that the only way that the Republican Guard, Medina Division could really do us much damage was if they were able to mass their artillery against our formations. So, if I could take out their artillery, we felt very, very confident that we could deal with their armored formations. The purpose of the attack was to do exactly that: to define, find and destroy their artillery, to prevent that artillery from providing support to their ground forces. Therefore our ground forces, with our massed artillery, our aviation support, and with the great support from the U.S. Air Force, could handle whatever the hell we ran into beyond there. ...

Some of the pilots are quite angry. They feel there was an intelligence failure. ...

I don't believe that to be true, but I can't say with certainty what specific [intelligence] they got, and what we had that they didn't get. But from my perspective, we tried to provide them exactly what was on the ground as best we understood. ...

[What were the Iraqi tactics in fighting -- the paramilitaries?]

... You have this really tough, even fanatical, sometimes suicidal corps of foreign fighters and Fedayeen whose very presence caused the Ba'ath party militia to be more resolute. ... And we also got reports throughout the campaign of the Fedayeen, in particular, handing out weapons to individual citizens on the street, and forcing them to become part of their formations. So, to the individual soldier on the ground from the coalition, you have a bunch of people, all of whom are in civilian clothes, all of whom are carrying weapons -- AK-47s and RPGs predominately. And it's very hard to discriminate between the lunatic who is a resolute fighter, and the civilian who's been given a weapon and told to be part of this formation or [the Fedayeen would] do damage to [the civilian] and to [the civilian's] family. That was the infantry piece of all of this. They seemed to be frequently led by what we call technical vehicles: the Toyota pickup truck with a pedestal mounted on it that mounted a machine gun, [or] a recoilless rifle, [or] a S60 air defense weapon. The platform itself was a civilian vehicle. ...

... [The civilians] appeared to have been given instructions by someone, in some kind of formal military sense: where to stand, where to point their weapons, how to provide mutual support. But there was no apparent -- what we would refer to as tactical leadership in the organizations. And there was no apparent ability or intention to innovate beyond what they have been told to do. But nonetheless, it was disturbing because there was a lot of them. They were dismounted, [and] they were supported by civilian vehicles that had weapons mounted on them. They came to the fight in taxicabs, buses, dump trucks, ambulances, and [vehicles] such as that. So that idea of how the paramilitary was going to fight -- how fanatical they might be, how suicidal they could be -- began to gel in everybody's mind. ...

What are your memories of the period of the sandstorms?

The weather really sucked. It's hard to describe. ... You could literally not see more than about 30 or 40 feet with your naked eye. The whole area was engulfed by this orangish, reddish haze -- it looks like one of these old science fiction movies of folks walking around the surface of Mars. I mean, there's just red haze, and then it started raining. And because of all the particles suspended in the air, as the rain hit the ground it was actually a drop of mud, and it began to cake on the vehicles. ...

You've described the sandstorms as a low point for you.

... The sandstorm hit at the same time the logistics base was needing to be built, and the sandstorm ... slowed down our convoys. ... I remember vividly a supply convoy from the Corps Support Command that had two days of supply of water and food for the 3rd Infantry Division, but it took them four days to get there. ... So the sandstorm was a low point in that it slowed us down; it slowed down our momentum and it slowed down our ability to build our logistics. And that on top of the 11th Regiment [attack] and the 507th [ambush] all kind of happened at the same time.

The resistance of these irregulars -- how much did it knock things off?

The fanaticism and the suicidal nature of the paramilitary surprised me. I was also surprised they seemed to be attacking out of the towns, and along our main supply routes. ... My understanding was that the purpose of those paramilitaries was largely to control the population. And in controlling the population, they could control southern Iraq, and in controlling southern Iraq, they could deny us access. ... The fact that they were swording out with these technical vehicles [in] formations outside of the populated areas ... was a surprise to me. The fact that they were there was no surprise, but the task and purpose of actually attacking in almost human wave forms, supported by technical vehicles, was a surprise because we didn't expect them to come out of the cities at all.

The sand storms [and] the attacks by the irregulars force a little bit of rethink over the next few days. What specific changes are made to strategy and tactics, and the war plan, as a result?

Over the course of those days, things evolved. First of all, understand that we were still focused on Baghdad. I mean, the Baghdad focus never left my mind, or the mind of my commanders. ... There were a number of conditions that had to be met, in my judgment, in order to get to Baghdad. The first condition was we had to have about four days of supply stacked up at LSA Bushmaster, because I understood and I think my commanders clearly understood that as soon as we moved through the Karbala Gap, it was going to be one fight all the way to Baghdad. We couldn't slow down, we couldn't stop, and we couldn't stop to reorganize because we were inside what we referred to as the enemy's red zone.

We were inside an area where [Saddam] had internal lines of communication. He could reposition his forces over short distances to counter any long distance moves that we were making. It was an area where, if he had the capability at all, he could mass his artillery on our formations. So in order to sustain that kind of movement and action all the way to Baghdad, we needed to have the supply base built. That was condition number one, and I didn't have that at the beginning of the sandstorm, but I did a couple of days later.

The second condition was that we needed to have some degree of flexibility in our formation. ... The 101st -- God love them, were great young soldiers, but because of the sandstorm we couldn't move them around the battlefield, because their mobility is embedded in the aviation platforms that they have within the division, and we couldn't fly because of the weather.

... The third condition that needed to be set is that we had to have some idea of what the status of the Republican Guard's formations that we believed to be defending Baghdad. And at that point in time, my recollection is that the estimate of enemy strength was something in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 percent. ... We didn't believe we had done a great deal of damage to the Medina division, or to whatever Republican Guard formations were reinforcing the Medina division south of Baghdad. And until those conditions were met -- the supply condition, the flexibility condition, the knowledge of the enemy condition -- I was very reluctant to force through the Karbala Gap and hit Baghdad, because that was the main effort of the Corps, and that's where we had to get and that's where we had to be to be decisive. ...

Everyone that I've talked to has stressed to me that, during this period, there was no panic. It was a pinprick and you just moved on. But, how worried were you?

... There's a fine line between concern and worry. I was concerned about the supply lines. I was concerned about the paramilitary. I was concerned about maintaining a tempo of operations that would continue to keep the Iraqi army off balance. But at no time was I ever worried that we would not be able to accomplish the mission. It just didn't occur to me. ... It was never any indication that we couldn't hold our own against this threat. It was a matter of timing and tempo. And, of course, we still had the threat of chemical weapons that we were all still concerned about.

Just before I move on, to the period from the 1st of April onwards, just characterize for me your sense of the resistance put up by the regular Iraqi army.

I don't think it was very good. It did not seem to be well coordinated. It didn't seem to be very well led. We received reports on occasion of officers leaving their soldiers during the course of the fight, or prior to a fight, and that reduced the resolve of the individual soldier. They never indicated, or in very, very few circumstances did they ever indicate or demonstrate a capability to mass their artillery fires. They didn't seem to be able to maneuver with any degree of authority on the battlefield. In isolated cases, they did defend, and they did defend violently, but in no circumstance do I recall anything more than about a company-level counterattack and more than about a company-level's worth of combat [paramilitary] being drawn into a fight. Though [Saddam's army had] large, armored formations, [they] just didn't materialize on the battlefield [and] never became an issue.

Explain to me the various sort of thrusts that take place on the 1st of April.

That was a fascinating day, because ... the sandstorm ... had ended by then. The supply base was beginning to be established. The 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry was moving up, because by that time the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters, and their one brigade, had been added to the Corps' combat power, and the lines of communication were being stabilized.

But we still didn't have a good feel for the strength of the Medina division. Everybody in the Corps recognized we had to get back on the offensive. We had to get back on the attack. We had to do something to maintain a tempo of operations. ... So [Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III and his command] proposed an attack by the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, up to an objective that they called Objective Murray. And it was another Class-70-bridge crossing of the Euphrates River that could support armored traffic across the Euphrates, which at this point we controlled.

[Blount] wanted to do that, and at the same time he was going to move the 3rd Infantry, 7th Cavalry up into the Karbala Gap and screen that area, clear enemy forces from that area if there were any, and then reposition his 1st and 3rd Brigade in preparation for the attack through the Karbala Gap. So his intent was to conduct this offensive operation and, as he was conducting it, reposition his forces so that at the end of the operation he would be postured to negotiate the Karbala Gap. And I approved those plans ... because at that point, we were all looking for some offensive action, and this was a great one to execute. ...

What was the Iraqi response?

The reaction that we saw was some armored vehicles moving some artillery out of their [hidden] positions. We also had reports of some armored vehicles moving on heavy equipment transporters. We had some reports of radio intercepts that would indicate that they were moving into their final defensive positions along Highway 8, and arrayed to the south. Simultaneous with those reports and that movement, we had UAVs flying and identifying those formations. That operational maneuver, in my judgment, enabled the operational fires of the coalition to really do some major damage on portions of the Republican Guards. And from that point, over the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours, the number of reports we were getting on destruction of Iraqi armor and artillery formations was dramatically larger than what we had received earlier in the fight.

And your intelligence about the forces defending the Karbala Gap? ...

The enemy defending the Karbala Gap was very sketchy because there wasn't [an enemy formation] there. ... We had some information coming from a special operations team that was up in the Gap ... that indicated some light armored resistance, but nothing of any particular significance. We had run that deep operation two days prior with the elements of the 101st that went in north of the Gap and engaged some enemy formations, but not anything substantial. So we were very confident at that point -- at least I was very confident -- that the enemy was not defending in depth, to any degree of strength, in the Karbala Gap itself.

Were you surprised by that? ...

I was surprised by the fact that they weren't defending there in any strength at all. I can't make any judgments about why they weren't, or why they chose not to, or if they had planned [to] but just couldn't get there. Were I the enemy, I would have at least had something that was defending north of the Karbala Gap to deny that avenue of approach to us. ...

[What about your memories of] the day of the breakthrough at the Karbala Gap?

The attack started early in the morning. It progressed slower than I had expected it to, based on the enemy resistance, and it was largely a function of terrain, not enemy. It turned out to be a little bit more marshy, a little bit more difficult terrain on the east side of Karbala, initially. But there was nothing substantial that slowed us down other than the terrain. ... There was still this gnawing thought that maybe someplace out there there was a battalion or a brigade of the Medina division that we would encounter, but it never materialized. So the advance through the Karbala Gap, once we actually got through the rough terrain, went very rapidly, all the way up to Objective Peach, which is the next bridge crossing site over the Euphrates river. And the 37th Cavalry went out and expanded the area, and really provided us pretty good secure area, north of Karbala, in which to stage formations for the subsequent attack into Baghdad.

The fight for the bridge -- how significant an engagement was that?

That was perhaps as significant an engagement as any during the early phases of the war. By virtue of seizing that bridge virtually intact, it allowed us to cross the Euphrates River in stride, with both the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and subsequently the 1st and 3rd Brigades, 3rd Infantry Division. Had that bridge been destroyed, or had the enemy defended that bridge with some degree of tenacity, it would have delayed our arrival in Baghdad by several days. ... I was always concerned about, once we got through the Karbala Gap, any time that we slowed down was going to make us vulnerable, particularly to chemical fires [and] to massed artillery fires. And that didn't materialize largely because we were able to seize that bridge crossing and maintain the momentum, and in fact keep the enemy off balance. ... We [had] young engineers cutting the demolition cords underneath the bridge to prevent further disruption of the bridge -- some really heroic acts by some great young Americans in order to secure that bridge, and maintain the momentum of the attack and getting us to Baghdad. ...

The following night there's a counter attack, isn't there? ...

... Probably during the course of the campaign, it was the first, and perhaps only, time where we saw something that appeared to be an organized counterattack. So that obviously demonstrated that we were in an area where we had to be careful, cautious and concerned with the Republican Guard. And secondly, that somebody, at least at the local level, knew the significance of the bridge because they were trying to kick us back off of it. And the 1st Brigade -- Will Grimsley and his folks -- handled the counterattack very handily. ...

... What happened to the Republican Guard? ...

... They were not as well equipped, well trained, well supplied, or well resourced as I think we assumed that they were. That's the one thing that happened to them. The second thing, regardless of your perspective on the effectiveness of coalition air strikes against the Republican Guard and against Baghdad, there was at least a demoralizing effect associated with those air strikes. If you knock out one vehicle in a company of ten, the other nine guys are somewhat concerned about what might happen to them the next night, or the night before or the night following.

So I think there was a psychological effect of coalition air strikes, and the fact that we really dominated the air over the entire area of operation and pretty much operated with impunity throughout that area. And the third thing that happened to them is we out-maneuvered them. We got through the Karbala Gap and we got around behind them, and there's nothing more demoralizing to an army that's looking to the south [than] to have the bad guys show up on your flank and to your rear. I think those three things, in combination, caused the Republican Guard to disintegrate.

I sense from your comments there's some debate over the effectiveness of the air strikes on the Republican Guard.

I do know that the BDA -- the Battle Damage Assessment -- that we were getting was not particularly optimistic about our ability to strike the Republican Guard and have an affect on the Republican Guard, largely because they were widely dispersed, they were hidden in palm groves, [and] they were dispersed in revetments. But they kept moving their stuff around, so when you found it during the day, it might not be there that night. Aside from the attacks that occurred after our five simultaneous attacks on the 1st -- which I knew were effective because I watched them on UAV, and I was cheering my buddies in Air Force on to take those dudes down -- leading up to that, I'd never really had a good feel that the Air Force strikes were being effective. Now I may not have been getting the right information -- their strikes may have been very effective from a strategic perspective in and around Baghdad. I can't comment on that.

But from the tactical perspective, there was a point leading up to about the 1st of April where I didn't feel very comfortable with the amount of destruction on the Republican Guard, which would have enabled us to get on into Baghdad. Subsequent to that, after our five attacks that I described earlier where we did the ground maneuver which caused them to reposition, and which allowed us to find them and target them, I was very comfortable with the degree of destruction. ...

Whose idea was the "Thunder Run" into Baghdad? ...

... I think the [sense] across the entire formation was that eventually we were going to have to conduct an armed reconnaissance into Baghdad in order to figure out what the hell this guy was going to do, how he was going to defend, what his array was, how he intended to use his armored vehicles and his infantry and his paramilitary, and any obstacle effort. So the first Thunder Run in my judgment was exactly that, an armed reconnaissance. ... It was a reasonable risk to take because the longer we waited, the more opportunity he would have to develop defenses, the more opportunity he would have to figure out where we were located, [and] the more opportunity he would have to reinforce, if he had the capability to reinforce.

So [when] we executed the first Thunder Run, we found out a little bit about the enemy. We found out that there were still paramilitary forces defending in Baghdad. We found out that their focus was generally on major road intersections. We found out that they were defending on overpasses with bunkered positions. We found out that periodically he would use armored vehicles, although not in any concentrated fashion, to try to counter our armored formations. We found out that he was going to try to use car bombs. We found out that we still had to deal with paramilitary forces. We found out that, generally speaking, he had trenches and abutments that paralleled the highways that we were going to have to deal with.

The first Thunder Run actually was a hell of a lot tougher of a fight than I think any of us anticipated. But it turned out okay. We gained a great deal of information about the enemy. We also watched with a UAV as 3rd [Brigade] of the 15th [Infantry] moved along Highway 8. We were watching specifically to see what the enemy's reaction [was going] to be. And what we saw was the enemy plough, putting obstacles behind our formation, as they moved through the city, apparently anticipating that we would withdraw along the same route that we attacked through, [and] not expecting us to exit at the airport, which [is what] we did. ...

[And the second Thunder Run?]

[Maj. Gen. Blount] came back to me and said, "Col. Perkins would like to conduct another Thunder Run, and he would like to go into downtown Baghdad." And it was at that point that I reminded him, either for the first time or the second time, of the enemy's tactic, putting the obstacles behind our formation. My concern was not that we could get into Baghdad or not. My concern was that any formation that got into Baghdad, we were going to [have to] be able to supply them with ammunition, we were going to have to be able to supply them with fuel, and we were going to have to be able to get any casualties out because I knew we weren't going to be able to do it by air. And it had to be done by armored vehicle.

I suggested that he [take] a less aggressive tactic -- that we go into the city again, but only as far as the second intersection, which is the main intersection that, if you turn to the west, you go to Baghdad International Airport; if you turn to the east, you head down to the new presidential palace, downtown.

... Now Col. Perkins, to his credit; Maj. Gen. Blount, to his credit; the G3 Col. Baird, to his credit, had anticipated ... what we had seen with the UAV and the judgments that we had gotten from the 315th Infantry, and developed a scheme where they seized and maintained control of key intersections all the way along, so that they could get in and get out. There would be the [an] armored blanket, if you will, or [an] armored corridor, if you will, that could get things in and out with some degree of security. So that was the plan that I thought we were executing the day the second Thunder Run. When Col. Perkins got to the second intersection, and it had been a relatively easy fight -- relative is relative -- he took a right turn and headed straight downtown. Now I don't think he was disobeying orders; I think he was taking advantage of the situation that was presented to him on the battlefield, which is what we teach our young leaders to do. And he launched down to the presidential palace, and I saw it happening on the Blue Force Tracking screen. And Gen. Blount and I talked very shortly on the radio, and we said, "Roger, let's let it go." ...

I was watching on CNN, as a matter of fact, [Col.] Perkins going downtown and walking around the presidential palace. I got a call from -- it wasn't clear, once he got down there, whether we would be able to stay or not -- and now understand I'm not talking directly to Col. Perkins; Col. Perkins is talking to his commander on the radio, and I'm monitoring all the discussion. And the discussion centered largely on whether we could stay downtown or not. I got a call from Gen. Blount, as I recall. Col. Perkins asked what kind of calling card we wanted to leave at the presidential palace, and we decided blowing up the door would be kind of cool, but that didn't happen. So that during the course of the day, during the course of the morning, and early into the afternoon, the discussion was, "Here we are, we're establishing ourselves. Can we stay or not?"

That became the issue -- should we stay downtown, or should we withdraw along the same routes that we came in? ... Col. Perkin's judgment was that his positions were as defensible in the downtown Baghdad area against enemy counterattacks as were his original positions. And I think he was predisposed to staying downtown, and he was trying to figure out a way to do that.

My concern, as it was for all of the Thunder Runs: could we get ammunition in; could we get fuel in; could we get our casualties out? That conversation about whether we could do all that continued through the day between Col. Perkins and Gen. Blount. Gen. Blount, late in the afternoon, called me up and made the recommendation that they stay downtown. ... And Gen. Blount assured me that we could do all that; Col. Perkins had assured him they had thought through all that, and he thought he could stay. And I approved the notion of staying in Baghdad. ...

Was there a moment when you realized it's over, we've won? ... In retrospect, wasn't the 7th [of April] the turning point?

The 7th was the point at which, I think, we broke the back of the regime; that we'd established ourselves in Baghdad; that the coalition was there and they were there to stay, in retrospect. But there was still much more work to do. ...

The military did their job. They won the war in three weeks. ... [In the] post-war, [have] the politicians [mishandled it]?

The military did their job in three weeks. I give no credit to the politicians for detailed Phase Four (the reconstruction of Iraq) planning. But I don't think that we, the military, did a very good job of anticipating [that] either. I don't think that any of us either could have or did anticipate the total collapse of this regime and the psychological impact it had on the entire nation. When we arrived in Baghdad, everybody had gone home. The regime officials were gone; the folks that provided security of the ministry buildings had gone; the folks that operated the water treatment plans and the electricity grid and the water purification plants were gone. There were no bus drivers, no taxi drivers; everybody just went home.

I for one did not anticipate our presence being such a traumatic influence on the entire population. We expected there to be some degree of infrastructure left in the city, in terms of intellectual infrastructure, in terms of running the city infrastructure, in terms of running the government infrastructure. But what in fact happened, which was unanticipated at least in [my mind], is that when [we] decapitated the regime, everything below it fell apart. I'm not sure that we could have anticipated that. ...

 

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posted february 26, 2004

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