HEIDELBERG, Germany — The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq defeated Saddam Hussein’s conventional forces in spring 2003.

But the military leaders’ ability to engage in communication needed to win the peace left a lot of room for improvement, according to the coalition’s former military commander.

“Strategic communication was a challenge for us from the very beginning, and we struggled with it through the entire time I was there,” Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said Thursday during the final day of Land Combat Expo 2004.

Sanchez, who as commander of Combined Joint Task Force-7 directed the multinational force, said that anyone with a stake in Operation Iraqi Freedom needed to be kept up to speed, and that did not always happen.

“It is literally the world [as an audience],” Sanchez said.

“You’ve got a combined operation of 36 countries. If you’ve got a few political problems or a few strategic problems, you’ve got to communicate with that entire world what is going on in [Iraq],” he said.

“You’ve got to communicate with each one of the national audiences, not just your own.”

Sanchez was one of a number of top generals at the expo who talked about their experiences.

Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, former commander of V Corps, which spearheaded the defeat of Saddam’s army and evicted his regime from Baghdad, said Wednesday that he wished the coalition had more quickly recognized the shift in power from Saddam’s regime to the Iraqi people.

The coalition, if it did, might have done a better job co-opting more Iraqis sooner into playing a role in the reconstruction of their country.

Sanchez, the current V Corps commander, called his comments “observations” rather than “lessons learned,” saying that time was needed for the U.S. military to fully evaluate what it had learned.

The nations that made up the coalition made military contributions ranging from one person to several thousand troops, he said.

But no matter how small the contribution, each nation’s peoples needed to be placated.

Inside of Iraq, there was an array of audiences, from individual U.S. troops to whole regions of the country, experiencing different levels of satisfaction and anxiety.

“You have to break that [message] down, you have to communicate in the theater of operations that you’re in,” Sanchez said.

“You have to communicate effectively to the region and to the country and then to the individual Iraqi who is out there.

“You have to be able to tell him what lies ahead in his future and what you are doing for him, and how he can help.

“Then you have to communicate with your own force so your soldiers understand where we’re headed and how we’re doing,” Sanchez said.

“It’s critical to success.”

Sanchez called dealing with reporters and other media a “necessary evil.”

Sometimes they could be your friend, Sanchez said, and sometimes your foe. He called it the “CNN factor.”

But giving interviews was a commander’s job, from top brass down to junior lieutenants, Sanchez said.

“You have to embrace [the media],” he said.

“You have to be good at it, have to understand the messages you want to communicate, and understand the dangers of getting out of your lane.

“Because it can have an impact very, very rapidly all the way up to the national level, and I had to struggle with that at times.”

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