Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/19/2004 7:39:06 PM ET 2004-03-20T00:39:06

When American ground troops roared into Iraq, it took them only 16 days to roll over the Iraqi military. Most former regime leaders, of the 54 most wanted, were quickly killed or captured.  Overall the initial ground war was a stunning success — but not without cost.

Combat forces advanced so rapidly, support troops and supply lines were left behind and vulnerable to attack by Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen militia.

Gen. Buford Blount led the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and says war planners underestimated the Fedayeens’ willingness to fight and die. “We would have thought once they, we’ve killed the first two or three waves that they would adjust their tactics.  But they didn’t.  They kept, they kept coming,” Blount said.

But a study of the lessons learned ordered by the Pentagon finds that the biggest mistakes were made not in fighting the war, but in the planning for peace.

A recently published book, “Rumsfeld’s War,” includes a secret analysis by the U.S. military which says that the military and government did not adequately plan for postwar stability operations.

The fallout was devastating.  American troops were totally unprepared to deal with mass looting.

Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne, said it all happened too fast. “It was the rapid collapse of everything that led to that, and I, we did not foresee that, and it was a surprise to us,” Petraeus said.

The United States was also unprepared for the near collapse of the Iraqi infrastructure.  There was little power, little water and no police.

But military officials say the most costly mistake was underestimating the potential threat from the Iraqi insurgency and terrorist suicide bombers.

“My greatest concern right now is on terrorist organizations getting established out west,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne.

Some military experts believe the Pentagon’s initial failure was not committing enough troops at the start.  NBC News analyst Gen. Barry McCaffrey added, “And we did not have the military police, the Special Forces, the civil affairs to create conditions of stability in Iraq, and we’re still paying for that failure.”

The Pentagon had planned for American troops to remain in Iraq four years, but military officials predict that could now stretch to 10 and become one of the longer-lasting lessons of the war.

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