Top general acknowledges Iraq mistakes

The U.S. military's top general acknowledged that he made mistakes in his early Iraq war strategy but said he still has no doubt that invading the country was the right decision.

Top general acknowledges Iraq mistakes
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the war's military architects, said he overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to hold together after the invasion, and as a result underestimated the number of U.S. troops that would eventually be needed to fight the war.

Offering a blunt assessment of the decisions and recommendations he made back in early 2003, an introspective Pace told Pentagon reporters that with the aid of 20-20 hindsight, it's clear he made "errors in assumption."

"One of the mistakes I made in my assumptions going in was that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi army would welcome liberation, that the Iraqi army, given the opportunity, would stand together for the Iraqi people and be available to them to help serve the new nation," said Pace, who will leave the chairman's job on Oct. 1. "If I knew that the Iraqi army was not going to be available, then I probably would have made a different recommendation about the total size force going in."

In retrospect, he said, "you say you wish you knew, but you didn't know on the way in."

A Vietnam veteran who became the first Marine to chair the Joint Chiefs, Pace, 61, became another political casualty of the Iraq war, more than four years into the conflict.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had planned to reappoint Pace for a second two-year term but in early June he changed his mind. Gates said he decided to replace Pace because the escalating discord — particularly in Congress — over the war would have triggered a bitter confirmation process, which would hurt the country.

On Friday, Pace offered his most extensive public self-evaluation of his Joint Chiefs tenure — which has included two years as chairman and four years as vice chairman.

Believing that the Iraqi army could be rebuilt, retrained and equipped by the end of 2006, Pace said that he did not — and never would think to — recommend in early 2006 that the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps be expanded.

But after the bombing of the revered Shiite mosque in Samarra in Feb. 2006, which unleashed widespread sectarian slaughter, it became clear that the U.S. would not be able to reduce force levels then and instead would have to beef up its own military to maintain troop rotations.

So, by the end of the year, Pace and other military were endorsing an increase in the size of both the Army and the Marine Corps.

Still, Pace said that after going back and reviewing his decisions, "I am comfortable in my own mind, with the things that I knew at the time, the recommendations that I made."

Further, he said, he has not wavered in his belief that the U.S. made the right call by invading Iraq.

Asked whether he still stands by comments he made several years ago when he said he had no doubts about the move, Pace did not hesitate.

"I absolutely do. Absolutely do. Absolutely do," he said.

"I'm proud of the fact that we stood and fought in Afghanistan and we are standing and fighting in Iraq. And did we make mistakes? Yes. But are we on the right path? Yes," he said, as Gates looked on. "Is it providing additional freedom for Iraqis and Afghanis, providing additional freedom for us at home? You bet. The more free people around the world, the stronger our democracy is and the safer our democracy is."

AP
Last Mod: 15 Eylül 2007, 10:54
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