The best-laid military plans can go awry, especially when they're buffeted by sandstorms, political winds and unexpected twists of fate.
Kevin Benson learned that firsthand as the chief Army planner of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an experience he recounted Tuesday at Kansas University's Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics.
As he planned for his own “D-Day” — March 19, 2003, the start of the invasion — Benson was “absolutely convinced” Saddam Hussein would bombard American troops with chemical weapons.
He could not know there were no such weapons hidden in Iraq's west desert.
He could not predict how the Iraqi military would dissolve on the outskirts of Baghdad or the insurgency that followed.
“We got what I thought was the best information possible,” Benson said.
Meanwhile, he dealt with civilian leaders who expected the war to pay for itself with oil funds and who told him to plan to reduce forces to zero by September 2003.
The Lansing resident and former director of advanced military studies at Fort Leavenworth acknowledged that policy decisions sometimes upset a planner's complex calculations. The insurgency might not have happened without the disbanding of the Iraqi army, he argued.
“Yes, it is frustrating, but military officers have to remember that's the way it works,” Benson said. “War is an extension of policy by other means.”
Knowing that, military planners have to give “politically aware” advice to civilian officials, he said.
He returned to Iraq last fall to help plan the military's exit, scheduled to wrap up by the end of this year. It's a mammoth task to move 50,000 soldiers and 70,000 contractors through a single Kuwaiti seaport while turning over 83 bases to the Iraqis.
But Benson's confident the transition is going well, despite a recent uptick in violence he attributed to militants wanting to appear to drive the Americans out.
The talk was the first of five Benson will host at KU, where he recently earned a doctorate in history. The others will take place June 21, June 28, July 12 and July 19, each starting at 3 p.m at the Dole Institute, 2350 Petefish Dr.