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The Dissenter Who Changed the War
Retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a veteran intelligence officer, concluded that the approach that many U.S. commanders used in the early days of the Iraq war effectively made them recruiters for the insurgency, and he was especially bothered by the actions of Odierno's division. "Some divisions are conducting operations with rigorous detention criteria, while some -- the 4th ID is the negative example -- are sweeping up large numbers of people and dumping them at the door of Abu Ghraib," Herrington wrote in a 2003 report to Brig. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top Army intelligence officer in Iraq.
Odierno was determined to operate differently on his second tour of duty, but he will not talk about how his transformation occurred. "I think everyone's changed," he said, brushing aside the question in one of a series of interviews in Iraq over the past two years. "We've all learned."
But one impetus, Odierno agreed, was the severe wounding of his son in August 2004. Lt. Anthony Odierno, then in the 1st Cavalry Division, had been leading a patrol near Baghdad's airport when a rocket-propelled grenade punched through the door of his Humvee, severing his left arm.
"It didn't affect me as a military officer, I mean that," Odierno said one evening in Baghdad much later. "It affected me as a person. I hold no grudges. My son and I talked a lot about this. He was doing what he wanted to do, and liked what he was doing."
But he said it did deepen his determination. "I was going to see this through -- I felt an obligation to see this through. That drives me, frankly. I feel an obligation to mothers and fathers. Maybe I understand it better because it happened to me."
The most important factor in his change in thinking, however, was probably his growing belief, as he prepared to redeploy to Iraq, that the United States was heading toward defeat.
'THE STRATEGY HAS GOT TO CHANGE' The General Fears That His Commanders' Plan Will Lead to Failure.
As the newly designated second in command in Iraq, Odierno was given a clear understanding of the scenario that Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his military superiors expected to play out: The United States would begin drawing down its forces in Iraq, cutting the number of combat troops in 2007 by as much as a third.
His responsibilities were equally clear: moving U.S. forces outside all major cities and establishing a handful of bigger bases along key roads leading into Iraq, deploying U.S. forces to the country's borders to limit outside influence, speeding up the transition to Iraqi security forces, and letting Iraqis handle fighting in the cities.
But the more the general and his team considered this plan, they less they liked it. They feared that it got ahead of the Iraqis' ability to do the job and thus, in keeping with the American pattern in Iraq since 2003, was likely to amount to one more rush to failure.
Odierno was "very nervous" about the course of U.S. strategy, he recalled. He decided to formally oppose any additional troop cuts. He wasn't even thinking about an increase, because, he said, "I didn't think I could get more."
He and a small group of advisers decided on a course almost the opposite of the plan given them. Instead of moving out of the cities, they would deploy more forces into them. Instead of consolidating their base structure, they would establish scores of smaller outposts. Nor would they withdraw to the borders. And most emphatically, they would slow, not accelerate, the transition to Iraqi forces.
Odierno realized that to take all those steps, he would need more troops -- and before long, it was clear to subordinates that Odierno was at odds with Casey, his commanding officer. "Casey fought it all the way," recalled Brig. Gen. Joe Anderson, then Odierno's chief of staff.