The Red Team
But first came the buried Red Team report, in which a select group of mid-level officers and officials who challenged the prevailing orthodoxy were ignored. This account is based on interviews with current and former American and allied officials and military officers -- and access to the 74-page classified report.
The origins of the Red Team go back to the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as the United States ambassador to Iraq. A former Pentagon official who was coming to Baghdad from a tour as the American ambassador in Kabul, Khalilzad began to think anew about the military situation in Iraq. Canvassing the experts, he pondered the work of Andrew Krepinevich, who had written a book about the Army's experience in Vietnam and was a proponent of population-centric counterinsurgency.
During Khalilzad's Senate confirmation hearings on June 7, 2005, a skeptical junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, asked Khalilzad if it might take 10 or 20 years to defeat the insurgency. It could be done in much less than that, he responded reassuringly.
After arriving in Baghdad in July, Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, commissioned an internal review -- one that was to be carried out by an eight-person team of military and civilian officials. Col. Bruce Reider, a strategist who was working on governance issues for General Casey, co-chaired the effort on behalf of the military. Other members of his military team included a British intelligence officer, an Australian officer, and one of General Casey's planners. Marin Strmecki, a conservative defense consultant and an advisor to Khalilzad, led the civilian side of the review. A CIA analyst was part of the team as well.
Khalilzad met with the group and outlined the questions they were to consider, the most important being: What would it take to "break the back" of the insurgency in one year and "defeat" it in three years? The entire review was to be done in 30 days.
Although Casey had signed off on doing the study, the four-star general was convinced his plan was generally on track and not in need of a major overhaul. He was supporting troop-intensive counterinsurgency efforts in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar and the border town of Al Qaim in western Anbar as a way of interrupting the flow of foreign fighters from Syria. But they were the exceptions to his broader approach to gradually withdraw American forces and hand the fight over to the Iraqis. It was more than an exit strategy for Casey; it was a means to reward, encourage, and prod the Iraqis to step up. The paradox, as Casey sometimes put it, was that the United States had to draw down to win.
As Reider and the rest of the Red Team worked on their assessment in August, they sensed that the general had a different view of the problem. "There is a fundamental issue over what we are trying to achieve," the colonel wrote in his diary. "Gen. Casey believes we are trying to develop ISF so we can hand the fight to Iraqis. The ambassador believes we are here to defeat the insurgency."
The Red Team's diagnosis of the war was, indeed, a far cry from Casey's. The effort to disrupt the insurgents' planning had not been decisive, it concluded, and the enemy had been able to retain freedom of movement. Many Iraqis had no faith in their leaders. What's more, the Iraqi troops who were being trained were not schooled in counterinsurgency. "Iraqi Security Forces have been stood up at great speed," the review noted. "This tremendous achievement to get them ‘in the fight' has not yet delivered sustainable forces with robust leadership." American aid programs were not reaching Sunni areas.