USA Iraq pre war plans -- details
by U.S. Central Command -- Thursday Feb 15th, 2007 11:37 PM
Some newpapers wrote today about the ridiculously unrealistic pre-war
plans revealed in now-declassified powerpoint slides presented by Gen.
Tommy Franks in 2002, but it's best to go to the source and read the
actual slides themselves, the timeline, and the analysis of The National
Security Archive now made available for online distribution to the public
A Prewar Slide Show Cast Iraq in Rosy Hues
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 — When Gen. Tommy R. Franks and his top officers
gathered in August 2002 to review an invasion plan for Iraq, it reflected
a decidedly upbeat vision of what the country would look like four years
after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power.
A broadly representative Iraqi government would be in place. The Iraqi
Army would be working to keep the peace. And the United States would have
as few as 5,000 troops in the country.
Military slides obtained by the National Security Archive under the
Freedom of Information Act outline the command's PowerPoint projection of
the stable, pro-American and democratic Iraq that was to be.
download PDF (45.5 KB)
TOP SECRET POLO STEP
Iraq War Plan Assumed Only 5,000 U.S. Troops Still There by December 2006
CentCom PowerPoint Slides Briefed to White House and Rumsfeld in 2002,
Obtained by National Security Archive through Freedom of Information Act
PowerPoints Reflect Internal Debates Over Size and Timing of Invasion Force
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 214
Edited by Joyce Battle and Thomas Blanton
Editorial Assistance by Malcolm Byrne, John Prados, and Justin Snyder
For more information contact:
Thomas Blanton/Joyce Battle - 202/994-7000
Washington D.C., February 14, 2007 - The U.S. Central Command's war plan
for invading Iraq postulated in August 2002 that the U.S. would have only
5,000 troops left in Iraq as of December 2006, according to the Command's
PowerPoint briefing slides, which were obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act and are posted on the Web today by the National Security
The PowerPoint slides, prepared by CentCom planners for Gen. Tommy Franks
under code name POLO STEP, for briefings during 2002 for President Bush,
the NSC, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the JCS, and Franks' commanders,
refer to the "Phase IV" post-hostilities period as "UNKNOWN" and "months"
in duration, but assume that U.S. forces would be almost completely
"re-deployed" out of Iraq within 45 months of the invasion (i.e. December
"Completely unrealistic assumptions about a post-Saddam Iraq permeate
these war plans," said National Security Archive Executive Director Thomas
Blanton. "First, they assumed that a provisional government would be in
place by 'D-Day', then that the Iraqis would stay in their garrisons and
be reliable partners, and finally that the post-hostilities phase would be
a matter of mere 'months'. All of these were delusions."
The PowerPoint slides reflect the continuous debate over the size of the
invasion force that took place within the Bush administration. In late
November 2001, President Bush asked Rumsfeld about the status of plans for
war with Iraq. He asked for an updated approach, but did not want to
attract attention. Rumsfeld ordered Gen. Franks to prepare a commander's
estimate of improvements needed, and Franks convened a planning group that
adopted the codeword POLO STEP.
POLO STEP was a coded compartment created during the Clinton
administration to encompass covert Iraq and counter-terrorism plans and
activities. In the mid-1990s, the compartment specifically included the
targeting of Osama bin Laden. Following the September 11 attacks, CentCom,
among other military and national security components, used the
designation to cover planning for the war in Iraq. (Note 1)
In mid-2002, military analyst William Arkin obtained a leaked copy of a
briefing on the Iraq plans and revealed the existence of POLO STEP in an
op-ed for the Los Angeles Times (June 23, 2002, p. M1). According to
Arkin, the revelation unleashed the fury of Gen. Franks and Secretary
Rumsfeld who immediately ordered a probe of the leak that lasted until the
end of 2003 and subjected more than 1,000 military and contractor
personnel to sometimes repeated questioning. (Note 2)
The slides in this Web posting are a compilation reflecting various
iterations in war planning. The U.S. government maintains plans for
conflict with a multitude of possible adversaries. The contingency
operating plan for Iraq--OPLAN 1003-98--had last been fully reviewed in
1996 and was updated in 1998. It envisioned an invasion force of more than
380,000 troops. Former CentCom commander Gen. Anthony Zinni (who saw gaps
in the plan--particularly in regard to the post-war order) organized a war
game--Desert Crossing--in 1999 to examine additional contingencies.
Under pressure from Secretary Rumsfeld for a leaner force (according to
accounts in books by Michael Gordon/Bernard Trainor, Thomas Ricks, and Bob
Woodward), Zinni's successor, Gen. Franks, reduced the number to 275,000
in the commander's estimate he gave to President Bush on December 28,
2001. During the course of 2002 alternative versions of the plan were
developed reflecting various assumptions about levels of allied
support--"robust", "reduced", or "unilateral"--and about the amount of
lead time available between the order to invade and the deployment of
forces. Under the Generated Start option Bush would have provided CentCom
with 30 days notice for war, and 60 days to deploy. Following Rumsfeld's
mandate to reduce deployment time to prepare for any contingency, Franks
developed the alternative Running Start option: conflict would begin with
escalating Red, White, and Blue air strikes followed by ground war as
troops were deployed. By mid-August 2002 a Hybrid concept had been
developed--the U.S. military would quickly mobilize forces in the region,
initiate an air strike campaign, then launch a ground invasion.
One account written after the war points out a basic problem with the
concept of scaled-down ground forces - a "contradiction" between ends and
means (Michael R. Gordon & Gen. Bernard Trainor, Cobra II, pp. 503-504):
"Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tommy Franks spent most of their time and
energy on the least demanding task - defeating Saddam's weakened
conventional forces - and the least amount on the most demanding -
rehabilitation of and security for the new Iraq. The result was a
surprising contradiction. The United States did not have nearly enough
troops to secure the hundreds of suspected WMD sites that had supposedly
been identified in Iraq or to secure the nation's long, porous borders.
Had the Iraqis possessed WMD and terrorist groups been prevalent in Iraq
as the Bush administration so loudly asserted, U.S. forces might well have
failed to prevent the WMD from being spirited out of the country and
falling into the hands of the dark forces the administration had declared
In the end, Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister
Tony Blair persuaded President Bush that the U.S. needed to go to the U.N.
to try to legitimize the invasion. Diplomatic efforts over the next few
months allowed more time for war preparations and the final option
embraced by Rumsfeld - Lt. Gen. David McKiernan's Cobra II - was closer to
Generated Start, the original plan, than the various iterations that were
subsequently developed and are reflected in the declassified PowerPoint
Lt. Gen. McKiernan later told Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks
(Fiasco, p. 75):
"It's quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things
nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in
Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense... In lieu of an order, or a
frag [fragmentary] order, or plan, you get a set of PowerPoint slides...
[T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint
Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich told Ricks (Fiasco, pp. 75-76) that
PowerPoint war planning was the ultimate insult:
"Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD's [Office of Secretary of
Defense] contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession
and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology -- above all
information technology -- has rendered obsolete the conventions
traditionally governing the preparation and conduct of war. To imagine
that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height
National Security Archive senior analyst Joyce Battle asked the U.S. Army
under the FOIA in 2004 for documents related to the 2001-2003 debates over
troop levels for the Iraq war. In response, the Army referred the request
to Central Command in 2005; and CentCom responded to the FOIA request in
January 2007 with the declassified PowerPoint slides. The slides were
compiled at CentCom with tabs labeled "A" through "L" (one slide is
unlabeled). The Web posting today reproduces the documents as they were
released by CentCom, together with additional items prepared by the
National Security Archive: a brief chronology of Iraq war planning based
on secondary sources, a glossary of military acronyms (essential for
translating the otherwise cryptic references on the slides), and an
introduction written by Ms. Battle.
[Based on accounts in Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor,
Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (New
York: Pantheon Books, 2006); Tommy Franks with Malcolm McConnell, American
Soldier (New York: Regan Books, 2004); Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The
American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006);
Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004).]
November 21, 2001 - President Bush asks Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about
contingencies for war with Iraq, and directs him to initiate planning.
November 26, 2001 - Rumsfeld meets with Gen. Franks at CentCom
headquarters in Tampa and they review the existing operating plan, OPLAN
December 1, 2001 - Rumsfeld asks Franks to develop a commander's estimate
as the basis for a new war plan.
December 4, 2001 - Franks presents a video conference for Rumsfeld on his
commander's estimate, outlining robust, reduced, and unilateral plans
based on levels of regional support (see Tab A).
December 28, 2001 - Gen. Franks briefs President Bush at Crawford on the
commander's estimate calling for an invasion force of 275,000 troops.
January 29, 2002 - President Bush targets Iraq in his "axis of evil" State
of the Union speech.
February 1, 2002 - Gen. Franks presents Generated Start, a plan building
to 275,000 troops, to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.
March 3, 2002 - Gen. Franks briefs President Bush again on Generated
Start, but there is pressure from Rumsfeld to reduce troop levels.
March 10, 2002 - Vice President Cheney begins a Middle East tour seeking
support from friendly governments for the invasion of Iraq.
March 21, 2002 - Gen. Franks meets with commanders at Ramstein, Germany on
planning that still calls for 5 and 2/3rds divisions but emphasizes a
faster march to Baghdad.
March 29, 2002 - Gen. Franks briefs the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
April 20, 2002 - Gen. Franks briefs President Bush at Camp David on
planning, calling for war to begin with 180,000 troops, ramping up to
April 20, 2002 - A PowerPoint slide on "Phase I Operations" lists the
following, among other steps: 1) Secure international/regional support; 2)
Posture forces for offensive operations; 3) Enhance intelligence and
targeting; 4) Degrade and deceive Iraqi regime; 5) Deter Iraqi internal
and external operations; 6) Prepare Iraqi opposition groups for action
(see Tab D).
May 10, 2002 - PowerPoint slides on a "Compartmented Plan Update"
summarize several matters: timing; "enabling actions" for war, including
continuing "OGA [CIA] covert action" in U.S.-controlled northern Iraq
"which started 4-5 months earlier," "post-regime government strategy," and
"strategic information operations;" force deployment; and Phase IV
(post-conflict) actions, including "ensure the territorial integrity of
Iraq," The expected duration of Phase IV: months (see Tab C).
May 11, 2002 - Gen. Franks presents the "Running Start" plan to Bush at
Camp David, speeding up the invasion, using "Red, White, and Blue air
strike plans" as a bridge to war, launching with only one Marine
Expeditionary Unit and 2 Army brigades or, maximum version, two divisions.
May 21, 2002 - When asked by the press "how many troops," Gen. Franks
says, "That's a great question and one for which I don't have an answer
because my boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan to do that.
They have not asked me for those kinds of numbers. And I guess I would
tell you, if there comes a time when my boss asks me that, then I'd rather
provide those sorts of assessments to him. But thanks for the question."
(Gordon/Trainor p. 52, Ricks p. 38)
June 19, 2002 - Gen. Franks briefs President Bush again on Generated Start
and discusses ongoing work on Running Start.
June 27-28, 2002 - Gen. Franks tells his commanders at Ramstein to focus
on Running Start because of the administration's impatience.
August 1-2, 2002 - Gen. Franks meets his commanders at Tampa and tells
them they need to be prepared to attack Iraq immediately if so ordered.
But there are concerns that Running Start will result in a larger number
of U.S. casualties.
August 4, 2002 - PowerPoint slides on "Compartmented Concept Update 4 Aug
2002" summarize the Generated Start plan, the Running Start plan, a
Modified plan, and Phase IV actions, including "Establish a secure
environment and assist in recovery and reconstruction" and "free
individuals unjustly detained" (see Tab L).
August 5, 2002 - Gen. Franks briefs the president and the NSC on war
planning (see Tab K and Tab L), and discusses the Hybrid concept.
According to Gordon/Trainor, "it was a hit at the White House," though
Franks saw that Secretary of State Colin Powell had doubts. Powell later
called Franks to express his concern about force levels.
August 5, 2002 - Colin Powell tells President Bush after dinner, "You are
going to be the proud owner of 25 million people . . . . You'll own it
all." (Woodward, p. 150) (This the supposed "Pottery Barn rule": you break
it, you own it.)
August 14, 2002 - Gen. Franks and Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart meet with
Rumsfeld and update him on the Hybrid option.
August 15, 2002 - PowerPoint slides on "Compartmented Planning Effort 15
August 2002" (Tab I) provide background on planning, noting "POTUS/SECDEF
directed effort; limited to a very small group . . . Integrate / consider
all elements of national power . . . Thinking 'outside the box', but
'inside a compartment'." "Key Planning Assumptions" for Generated Start
included "DoS will promote creation of a broad-based, credible provisional
government - prior to D-day" [invasion], and "Iraqi regime has WMD
August 26, 2002 - Vice President Cheney speaks to the Veterans of Foreign
Wars targeting Iraq.
September 6, 2002 - Gen. Franks meets with President Bush and the NSC to
review war planning. "Can we win this thing?" asks Bush. "Absolutely,"
says Franks. (Gordon/Trainor 74)
December 12, 2002 - Rumsfeld meets with Gen. Franks and with Lt. Gen.
McKiernan, who argues that the Hybrid plan should be replaced with the
Cobra II alternative that he has developed calling for a larger invading
force. By the end of the month it is understood that Rumsfeld has
essentially endorsed Cobra II. (Gordon/Trainor 93)
March 20, 2003 - The U.S. invades Iraq.
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to
U.S. Central Command Slide Compilation, ca. August 15, 2002; Top Secret /
Polo Step; Includes:
[NOTE: The tabs below are listed in the order received from U.S. Central
Tab A. [Three Options…]
Tab B. [Timeline]
Tab C: Compartmented Plan Update -- May 10, 2002
Tab D: Phase I Operations, ca. April 20, 2002
Tab E. [Phase II Operations - D-Day to D+45]
Tab F. [Five Phased Operation]
Tab G. [Phase I - Force Laydown]
Tab H. [Phase I Deployment Overview]
Tab I. Compartmented Planning Effort - 15 August 2002
Tab J. [Protect]
Tab K. [1003V Full Force - Force Disposition]
Tab L. Compartmented Concept - Update 4 August 2002
* "Acronyms Glossary for Iraq War Planning Slides" compiled by National
Security Archive staff
1. William M. Arkin, Code Names: Deciphering US Military War Plans,
Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World, (Hanover, NH: Steerforth
Press, 2005), pp. 1-2.