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Lt. Gen. William Wallace, former V Corps commander, says he didn’t recognize quickly enough when the power shifted away from Saddam Hussein during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wallace spoke Wednesday at the Land Combat Expo in Heidelberg, Germany.
Lt. Gen. William Wallace, former V Corps commander, says he didn’t recognize quickly enough when the power shifted away from Saddam Hussein during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wallace spoke Wednesday at the Land Combat Expo in Heidelberg, Germany. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The U.S. military overwhelmed Saddam Hussein’s forces on the way to Baghdad in spring 2003. But the man who led the ground invasion told soldiers Wednesday that he wished he had done a better job directing his units as the war shifted from conventional to street warfare.

Army Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the former commander of V Corps, also said he wished he had recognized more quickly when the power in Iraq shifted from Saddam’s regime to the Iraqi people.

“There was a point when the regime was no longer relevant, no longer pulling the strings and running the country,” Wallace said Wednesday at the Land Combat Expo 2004, which runs through Thursday.

“In retrospect, we were slow to pick up on that. We missed an opportunity for the Iraqi people to become part of the solution instead of standing on the sidelines waiting to see how things turned out.”

The inability to co-opt the Iraqi people in a timely manner as the tide turned was one the lessons Wallace said he learned while deploying and commanding V Corps at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

When asked if the military did not have a plan, or a good enough plan, to “win the peace,” Wallace replied that the plan was based on faulty assumptions on what would happen once the U.S.-led coalition captured Baghdad.

The Iraqi people were expected to cooperate more than they did, Wallace said. Public services such as electric, water and services were expected to be in better shape, as were the institutions that operated them.

“I did not have an appreciation of how intrinsically [Saddam’s] Baath Party was woven into the society,” Wallace said.

Wallace, who now is commanding general of the U.S. Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said that in future wars, “totalitarian regime changes and what follows has to be part of the planning up front.”

The war in Iraq, now 1½-years-old, has taught the U.S. military many lessons on the fly, Wallace said.

Among them:

The ability to fight an enemy that doesn’t fight fair, such as by blending in with civilians and using human shields, and hiding personnel and military assets within sensitive sites such as mosques, hospitals and schools, and using public communications to coordinate operations.The need to focus training on combat in a downtown environment such as Baghdad. “How does a battalion or brigade operate in an urban environment?” he asked.Rethink the time spent on teaching gunnery skills. “We haven’t run into a tank lately, at least not one with anybody on board,” Wallace said.Improve coordination and timing between the fighters and their suppliers. “It took 3rd Infantry Division 20 days to get repair parts once it got to Baghdad,” Wallace said.In future engagements “we’re going to be fighting and flowing at the same time,” Wallace said. “Someone has to be in charge of the fighting, and someone has to be in charge of the flowing, but eventually they have to come together.”

Wallace praised the adaptability of soldiers who have been serving downrange. Their ability to go from tankers to foot soldiers and back again, for example, has shown the need for military units to be more flexible.

“Non-standard organizations specifically designed for the task at hand will be more frequently seen in the future than in the past,” Wallace said.

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