By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007
An active-duty Army officer is publishing a blistering attack on U.S. generals, saying they have botched the war in Iraq and misled Congress about the situation there.
"America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq," charges Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "The intellectual and moral failures . . . constitute a crisis in American generals."
Yingling's comments are especially striking because his unit's performance in securing the northwestern Iraqi city of Tall Afar was cited by President Bush in a March 2006 speech and provided the model for the new security plan underway in Baghdad.
He also holds a high profile for a lieutenant colonel: He attended the Army's elite School for Advanced Military Studies and has written for one of the Army's top professional journals, Military Review.
The article, "General Failure," is to be published today in Armed Forces Journal and is posted at http://www.armedforcesjournal.com. Its appearance signals the public emergence of a split inside the military between younger, mid-career officers and the top brass.
Many majors and lieutenant colonels have privately expressed anger and frustration with the performance of Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and other top commanders in the war, calling them slow to grasp the realities of the war and overly optimistic in their assessments.
Some younger officers have stated privately that more generals should have been taken to task for their handling of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, news of which broke in 2004. The young officers also note that the Army's elaborate "lessons learned" process does not criticize generals and that no generals in Iraq have been replaced for poor battlefield performance, a contrast to other U.S. wars.
Top Army officials are also worried by the number of captains and majors choosing to leave the service. "We do have attrition in those grade slots above our average," acting Army Secretary Pete Geren noted in congressional testimony this week. In order to curtail the number of captains leaving, he said, the Army is planning a $20,000 bonus for those who agree to stay in, plus choices of where to be posted and other incentives.
Until now, charges of incompetent leadership have not been made as publicly by an Army officer as Yingling does in his article.
"After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America's general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public," he writes. "For reasons that are not yet clear, America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq."
Yingling said he decided to write the article after attending Purple Heart and deployment ceremonies for Army soldiers. "I find it hard to look them in the eye," he said in an interview. "Our generals are not worthy of their soldiers."
He said he had made his superiors aware of the article but had not sought permission to publish it. He intends to stay in the Army, he said, noting that he is scheduled in two months to take command of a battalion at Fort Hood, Tex.
The article has been read by about 30 of his peers, Yingling added. "At the level of lieutenant colonel and below, it received almost universal approval," he said.
Retired Marine Col. Jerry Durrant, now working in Iraq as a civilian contractor, agrees that discontent is widespread. "Talk to the junior leaders in the services and ask what they think of their senior leadership, and many will tell you how unhappy they are," he said.
Yingling advocates overhauling the way generals are picked and calls for more involvement by Congress. To replace today's "mild-mannered team players," he writes, Congress should create incentives in the promotion system to "reward adaptation and intellectual achievement."
He does not criticize officers by name; instead, the article refers repeatedly to "America's generals." Yingling said he did this intentionally, in order to focus not on the failings of a few people but rather on systemic problems.
He also recommends that Congress review the performance of senior generals as they retire and exercise its power to retire them at a lower rank if it deems their performance inferior. The threat of such high-profile demotions would restore accountability among top officers, he contends. "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war," he states.