U.S. Army War College Says 'Iran Was The Only Winner' In Study Of Iraq War
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To lessons now from the Iraq War, according to a long-awaited study of that war from the U.S. Army War College. It was commissioned by then-Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno six years ago back in 2013. And here's how the Army Times summed up the findings in a headline, "Army's Long-Awaited Iraq War Study Finds Iran Was The Only Winner In A Conflict That Holds Many Lessons For Future Wars."
To talk about some of those lessons, we are joined now by Colonel Frank Sobchak, now retired. He's one of two co-editors of the study, and he joins me now. Colonel, welcome.
RET COLONEL FRANK SOBCHAK: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Talk to me about that headline, that Iran was the, quote, "only "winner" in the Iraq War. Do you agree?
SOBCHAK: Yes, I do. I think that one of the reasons why in Operation Desert Storm the decision was made not to go all the way to Baghdad was just the geopolitical balance of having Iraq as a bulwark or counterweight to Iran.
Now with Iraq severely weakened and with elements of its political class as supporters of Iran, Iran is clearly in a much stronger situation just strategically. And I think we see that playing out through its expansionism and kind of adventurism occurring in Syria, Yemen and other locations.
KELLY: Your report also documents a U.S. failure to adequately train Iraqi forces. It documents some of what happened after the U.S. pulled back in 2011. And of course, we then saw sectarian tensions deepen and the rise of ISIS. And it's very critical of some of the Army's most senior officers. What has the reaction been like?
SOBCHAK: You know, at the tactical level, at our training center - is we do after-action reviews after every single battle. And so, to a degree, this is an academic after-action review. It's - it's a assessment of what went right and what went wrong. And so while in some areas it can be perceived as being overly critical, from another perspective, it's the military reviewing itself to try to make sure that, if this ever happens again, that we are better prepared.
KELLY: Let me ask about a potentially delicate matter you had to deal with. I mentioned General Odierno commissioned this report. He wrote the foreword for it. Back when he first arrived in Iraq, he was division commander.
KELLY: He was criticized as someone who maybe didn't get the whole hearts-and-minds things, the importance of winning the population over. Was that a challenge to navigate? The man who commissioned it, the man who wrote the forward to it was also somebody you had to investigate as you pored back over those years.
SOBCHAK: I don't think it was a large challenge because we were given so much freedom to study kind of what went right and what went wrong. And, I mean, you know, frankly, more went wrong than went right. And we've even given guidance, effectively, that if you have to kill sacred cows, kill some sacred cows because we need to learn from this. This matters.
KELLY: How directly does your report criticize him and other senior army officers?
SOBCHAK: I think that we were given a lot of latitude to present mistakes that occurred. And we all - I mean, I served in Iraq, as did every one of the other authors of the study. We all made mistakes, and we all have things that we can learn from.
KELLY: That's retired Colonel Frank Sobchak. He is one of the editors of an extensive new report from the U.S. Army War College on the war in Iraq.
Colonel Sobchak, thanks very much.
SOBCHAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.