Pentagon planners take aim at Rumsfeld

Deployment delays for key armored unit due to `management'

War In Iraq

April 02, 2003|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's reluctance to commit high numbers of troops to the Persian Gulf helped delay the deployment of a key armored unit in time for the start of the war in Iraq, senior officers and Pentagon officials say.

The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., with 8,000 soldiers, can mount attacks or provide reconnaissance for larger Army units. With its Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and helicopters, the regiment can seek out the enemy and guard supply lines. It can also protect advancing U.S. troops.

But nearly two weeks after the war began, the regiment is loading up at a Texas port and will take several more weeks to arrive in the region. Pentagon officials and military officers place blame for the delay squarely on Rumsfeld, who they say has micromanaged the flow of forces.

The defense secretary delayed the deployment orders for the regiment and instead repeatedly demanded more information, including why it was necessary to send thousands of reservists to support the troops, Pentagon officials and officers said.

Rumsfeld "asked a lot of questions," a Pentagon planner said. "There was an awful lot of management of the flow. There was a reluctance to commit a lot of reserve forces because of the impact on the economy. It made the [deployment] process longer."

A senior military officer complained that requests for forces would linger in Rumsfeld's office for weeks, unsigned, including the request earlier this year for the 3rd Regiment.

Rumsfeld and his senior aides "made this harder than it had to be," the officer said.

As a result, there were fewer forces on the ground than some military officers thought necessary when war broke out, with only one tank-heavy division, the 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Ga.

At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, side-stepped a question about the 3rd Regiment. But Rumsfeld noted that Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander of forces in the gulf region, and other senior commanders had told President Bush before U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq that they supported the war plan.

Rumsfeld said the president then asked, "`Do you have everything you need?' Simple question. These are all adults. They're all four stars.

"And they sat there, and they looked at the president in the eye and said, `Absolutely, we've got everything we need.'"

One Pentagon official defended Rumsfeld's actions, saying the secretary had asked pointed questions of war planners and wanted to ensure that any Guard and Reserve deployments were necessary.

The resulting U.S. ground force in Iraq, the Pentagon official said, has the "adaptability and flexibility" to push through toward Baghdad.

At the Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld sought to play down the notion that he played a central role in crafting the war plan and in choosing the individual combat units. He described it as "General Franks' plan," though Rumsfeld termed it "excellent."

"I'm the boss," the defense secretary said. "But I'm not the one who designs war plans."

Myers, standing beside Rumsfeld, launched into a blistering defense of the troop levels, dismissing persistent criticism that the Pentagon failed to supply enough ground forces.

"My view of those reports, and since I don't know who you're quoting, who the individuals are, is that they're bogus," Myers said.

"There is not one thing that General Franks has asked for that he hasn't gotten on the time line that we could get it to him. And it wasn't because of a late finding. It might be because we didn't have, you know, a ship or something."

Part of the explanation for the delay in sending some forces, officials said, is that Rumsfeld decided to scrap a troop deployment plan known as the Time Phased Force and Deployment Data. This Pentagon plan listed five units that were ready to deploy once war broke out.

Those units were the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 101st Airborne Division, the 3rd Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Cavalry Division.

But instead of accepting that deployment plan, Rumsfeld and his aides added some units and dropped others. Their decision upset a carefully designed flow of forces. It produced a plan that officers and officials say had too few tank-heavy units on the ground to begin the war.

And rather than having three heavy divisions called for in the original deployment plan, there were only two - the 3rd Infantry and the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, which was added to the force mix later.

Turkey subsequently refused to let the 4th Infantry cross its territory to mount an attack on Iraq, leaving the 4th Infantry's equipment bobbing in the Mediterranean as the war began.

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