Iraq: Three Years, No Exit

As the U.S. invasion force was ready to cross the border from Kuwait into Iraq, Gen. William Wallace, the senior Army commander, told his troops that, "we're going north, and then we're going home."

The troops did go north — and in less than three weeks, they had roared into Baghdad. But as CBS News correspondent David Martin reports, the part about going home still hasn't happened. And for that, Wallace says, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Says Wallace: "The plan was based on assumptions that proved not to be true."

Miscalculation No. 1: The United States was counting on Iraqi institutions to run the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Instead, those institutions fell with him, leaving behind chaos that spawned the insurgency.

"You take away the regime and you take away the institutions," says Wallace. "I don't think we had a full appreciation of that dynamic."

One month after the fall of Baghdad, Wallace and his troops were still hunting down diehards who were loyal to Saddam Hussein. Three years later, it's easy to see that this was another miscalculation: Top commanders hadn't thought through how they would deal with a real insurgency.

"I personally didn't expect to have to deal with a coordinated insurgency of any type," Wallace says.

But one thing everyone understood was that training Iraqi troops to take over the fighting would be the linchpin of the U.S. exit strategy. That makes the next miscalculation — the late and disorganized training for those troops — all the more inexplicable.

Eight days after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, Maj. Gen Paul Eaton was handed the job of training a new Iraqi Army. He was back home in Georgia with his wife when he got the call. "We just kind of looked at each other and said 'it's a little late, getting this kind of notification.' I would have figured the guy to do that would have been on station already.

"In the beginning," he adds, "there was no, zero, urgency on the part of the Secretary of Defense to provide the requisite resources to truly develop the Iraqi security force."

One month later, Eaton and his team of six went to work at an abandoned Iraqi base that had been stripped by looters. Just when he thought he was beginning to make some progress with the Iraqi Army, his job was expanded to include training all of Iraq's security forces including the police. "I found absolute chaos," he says.

It was like starting all over again.

The resources he needed "came late, nine months late," says Eaton, meaning that time was "if not completely wasted, largely wasted."

During those nine months, notes Martin, more than 400 Americans were killed as the insurgents gathered strength. The death toll is now 2,300.

  • John Kreiser

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