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Koa Books

Voices of Dissent

Cowboy Diplomacy:
Putting the Nation at Risk

Sponsored by the Center for International Policy
Dirkson Senate Office Building Room 106
Washington, DC
October 21, 2003

Remarks by resigned/retired Foreign Service Officer and retired US Army Reserves
Colonel Mary A. (Ann) Wright


Senator Dodd and other members of the US Congress, Congressional staff members, Ambassador White, fellow panel members and friends, it is a pleasure to be back in Washington and to be asked to offer my views.


After almost 30 years of military and diplomatic experience proudly representing our country in some of the most isolated and dangerous parts of the world, I resigned from government service in March of this year. I strongly believed the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq without international consensus and the resultant diversion of resources from completing the mission to eliminate Al Queda and eliminate the Taliban was wrong.

I also believed that the administration should have worked harder to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and should have opened some level of dialogue with North Korea. I also disagreed with the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties under the Patriotic Act.

6 Months Later

6 months later, I continue to believe the administration’s rationale of going to war in Iraq was faulty and dangerous. 6 months later, I am firmly convinced the actions of the administration have put our nation’s economy at risk.

6 months later, I feel the actions of the administration have placed our nation’s security at even greater at risk than it was before. 6 months later I know the administration’s actions have lowered America’s moral stature in the eyes of most of the citizens of the world.

6 months later, the security environment of neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has been resolved. Iraq and Afghanistan are smoldering; Israel and Palestine are in flames and North Korea is test firing missiles. An unknown number of Americans and non-US citizens have been in detention for an unknown period of time, for unknown reasons.

I truly feel the decisions of the administration have made not only America, but the world, a more dangerous, not a safer place.


Let me start by recalling a bit of distant history. Twenty years ago almost to the day, a US Naval Task Force on its way to the Middle East to recover the remains of 222 US Marines who had been killed in the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut. The Task Force was diverted suddenly to the Caribbean and became the platform for the “rescue” of American students attending a medical school on the tiny island of Grenada. The murders of one part of the ruling Marxist regime by the other part and subsequent chaotic conditions arguably jeopardized the lives of hundreds of American medical students.

And those conditions provided the opportunity to eliminate the Grenadian part of the Reagan Soviet era Western Hemisphere “Axis of Evil” that consisted of Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada.

At the time, I was US Army major assigned at Ft. Bragg, NC. I deployed to Grenada on the third day of operations to assist the XVIII Airborne Corps in meeting its International law obligations including protection of public and private property of Grenadians from theft and looting—in Grenada this theft and looting was caused by poorly supervised US troops and resulted in the courts-martial of about 20 US soldiers and greater emphasis by the Army on better instruction and supervision of soldiers in combat operations.

I will come back to obligations of an occupying power in a few minutes and my deep concerns in that regard about US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I later was second in command of the US Army Special Operations Civil Affairs unit that helped with civilian reconstruction efforts in Grenada. Since Grenada, the US government has been involved in many post-combat civilian reconstruction projects in Panama, Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans and Afghanistan. We should know how to calculate civil reconstruction costs by now. We’ve had lots of experience.

I, myself, have been involved in civilian reconstruction projects in Grenada, Somalia and Afghanistan and in post-conflict operations in Sierra Leone.

Analysis Based on My Military and Diplomatic Service Experience Indicated a Flawed Plan for Iraq

Now, let’s fast forward 20 years to 2002. The administration’s claim that America and the world was in imminent danger from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction did not ring true to me. There were no claims at that time that Iraq was a center for terrorists, particularly those terrorists connected with the September 11 tragedies.

The administration made the claim that the US must have a doctrine of preemptive strike.

That doctrine would have made sense in Afghanistan with its Al Qaeda bases and the links of Al Qaeda to past bombings, but the doctrine rang dangerously hollow with Iraq and dangerously arrogant and aggressive to the Arab and Muslim world.

Preemptive strike is a concept that once used by any power, opens the door of its use to all comers—thereby jeopardizing and making the world more dangerous rather than safer.


I was on the State Department team that opened our Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December, 2001 and spent almost four months there as the first political officer and later as the Deputy Chief of Mission. Sitting in the bunker of the US Embassy in Kabul in January 2002, I listened in disbelief when President Bush declared the US would be looking closely at the actions of today’s so called “Axis of Evil”, Iraq, Iran and North Korea—when the war in Afghanistan was far from over.

The Taliban had been routed from Kabul and other cities and the Al Qaeda bases had been blown apart, but we in Kabul knew that many more international military forces were needed all over the country to keep our new allies, the warlords, in check, while we and they continued to fight “remnants” of Al Qaeda and the Taliban--remnants that have proven to be much larger than had been anticipated.

We in the bunker at the Embassy in Kabul were astounded that the administration was threatening additional military campaigns when the operations in Afghanistan, operations that were a direct response to the perpetrators of September 11, were far from over.

One year later, as the drumbeat to war in Iraq reached a crescendo, when it was even more evident that we were a long way from defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban and stabilizing Afghanistan, the rationale of why we would jeopardize our commitment to free the world of Al Qaeda and Afghanistan of the Taliban by undertaking operations in Iraq was a mystery to us in Kabul.

Military Plans Flawed: Law and Order and Civil Reconstruction Requirements Not Met

I knew from personal experience in Somalia and Afghanistan, the US would be involved in an intricate and expensive civil reconstruction program if we decided to invade and occupy a country as large and as culturally complex as Iraq.

It seemed obvious that it would be particularly difficult and expensive in a country that had for ten years been under a US sponsored UN embargo and therefore unable to maintain its relatively sophisticated urban infrastructure of water, electrical and sewage systems, plus the extensive oil pipelines and oil storage facilities. There would be much more infrastructure to fix in Iraq than in Afghanistan, and we were already having trouble getting the funds to fix Afghanistan.

Knowing that the US Congress and the American people would blanch if they knew the number of soldiers required to provide a level of security and law and order to protect this infrastructure immediately after combat operations, I strongly believe Department of Defense politicians risked the success of the military operation by gutting the original plans developed by the military component commanders for the Central Command and reduced the military personnel level to a dangerously low, but politically sellable level.

Former US Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki alerted the political leaders of the Department of Defense six months before the war began that the civilian-mandated operations plans for Iraq were woefully short on soldiers to do the missions required by the operations plan. Anyone who has ever been associated with combat operations knows that by the second day in those operations, many civil affairs and military police units are needed to handle the large number of civilians that the combat units find on the battlefield, battlefields that in this day are generally urban areas of a country. The numbers of civil affairs and military police units needed were not included in the plan.

Every military operation plan has a special annex that identifies cultural monuments and public infrastructure that by international law, the Law of Land Warfare, must be protected by an occupying power. And the plan identifies the numbers of soldiers that will be needed to protect the infrastructure and culturally important sites. UNESCO rosters of culturally important sites in Iraq have been known by US military planners for decades.

In fact in the early 1980s when I was a soldier at Ft Bragg, NC, I helped write an “on the shelf” operation plan for possible Middle East operations. Culturally sensitive locations and the number of soldiers needed to protect those areas were identified twenty years ago –and the numbers of soldiers required was a daunting number back then. Those same places we identified twenty years ago were not protected and subsequently looted in the wave of lawlessness that occurred when not enough soldiers were available to establish a secure environment and to guard key facilities. The looting of museums, libraries, schools and hospitals in Baghdad and other major cities in Iraq should have been prevented.

I firmly believe Pentagon E-ring civilian “warriors” risked the lives of military personnel and the prestige of the United States on their war plan, a war plan that senior military officers were telling them was dangerously flawed.

US military commanders now say more military forces are needed in Iraq. They are careful to say that they don’t need more US forces as those comments would be career suicide. The administration continues to offer large financial incentives to countries to send troops to help fight the guerilla war that has developed in Iraq, a guerilla war that was predictable and predicted by those who know the Iraqi military.

With all due respect to U.S. military prowess, ten years after the rout of Iraqi forces in Gulf War I and the destruction of much of its military hardware, followed by a ten year embargo on replacement military equipment, the Iraqi military was not a military that posed a major challenge for the best equipped and best trained military on earth.

One could easily predict that much of a military looking down the barrels of such an overwhelming U.S. military force would take off their uniforms and disappear into the cities and countryside rather than stand, fight and be slaughtered. These “disappeared” Iraqi military, now apparently joined by international fighters some of whom appear to be parts of terrorist organizations, are exacting causalities now greater than those sustained during initial “combat” operations.

Economic Risks

Because of the administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq, we now are faced with tremendous economic risk. The huge amount of funding necessary to replenish, re-outfit and pay our military forces, plus the funding the administration feels is necessary for the US to provide for the reconstruction in Iraq are staggering. Despite what the Secretary of Defense has said, I believe that these expenditures have placed the nation at economic risk.

National economic risk becomes a national security risk when the nation’s expenditures outstrip our revenues. Huge expenditures for unnecessary wars and tax cuts for political purposes place our country at both security and economic risk.

Moral Risks

Using Warlords to Fight our Battles: Obligation to Investigate War Crime allegations

Earlier I spoke of American military violations of Law of Land Warfare in Grenada.

I want to use the opportunity of speaking on this panel to raise an incident in Afghanistan that must be investigated to determine if American military forces may have violated international law, a violation so grave that it will deeply affect the image of the US military and of the United States itself. For the moral fiber of America and our image outside of the country, I feel it is incumbent upon the administration to ensure that these types of allegations are properly addressed. But after 18 months since the alleged incident, DOD has not launched any investigation.

Ironically, I bring this incident up on the heels of publicity over the weekend concerning the actions of a US Army Tiger unit in Vietnam almost 35 years ago in which hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese villagers were killed. The Army reportedly spent over 4 years investigating and documenting killings that took place over a 7 month period in 1967. Those who were responsible have not been held accountable.

35 years later, in Afghanistan, US military forces reportedly failed to prevent the deaths of approximately 3000 Taliban fighters that had surrendered. I firmly believe the US government must investigate these allegations and if they are true take appropriate measures to hold those responsible accountable.

The administration’s decision to hire many Afghan warlords to fight a major part of our war on terrorism against Al Qaeda and to free the people of Afghanistan from the misery of Taliban rule, no doubt saved numerous American military lives. However, by hiring these warlords to fight for us, I believe the administration assumed the moral responsibility of supervising how “our” warlords fought. .

In November, 2001, approximately 8,000 Taliban surrendered at Kunduz. 470 Taliban broke away and ended up being killed in a final battle near Mazar-e-Sharif. At the Kalai Janghi prison where many surrendered Taliban were held, an uprising broke out and CIA agent Mike Spann was killed. The American Taliban John Walker Lindh was discovered there and a huge media blitz followed. Most journalists left northern Afghanistan after reporting the Walker story.

However, the other 7,500 Taliban were then processed through Kalai Janghi prison. The plan reportedly was to take all the prisoners to the Sheberghan prison to be interrogated and to root out which men were Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

The first 3,000 were transported in open trucks to Sheberghan prison where they were processed by American forces who checked for identity cards and any thing else of intelligence value.

Another 3,000 Taliban were still to be processed by the American forces at Sheberghan. But there was no room at the inn. The prison was several times beyond capacity.

Those 3,000 surrendered Taliban soldiers were packed into airtight containers on trailers to travel many miles to their destination -– the Sheberghan prison.

Before long, Northern Alliance soldiers hear pounding inside the containers as the men inside are gasping for air. There are witness reports of Northern Alliance soldiers supervised by US Special Forces soldiers or CIA operatives shooting into the containers create ventilation holes. The shots killed many Taliban in the closed containers and wounded many more. So many had been wounded or killed that blood ran under the doors of the containers onto the ground.

The trucks filled with the remaining 3000 Taliban took up to four days to get to Sheberghan. Once there, the trucks filled with dead and dying surrendered Taliban were queuing in long lines outside Sheberghan Prison. Once inside the prison, the living and the dead were poured out of the containers. American CIA and Special Forces then searched for identification, along with the Northern Alliance soldiers. The dead and the living, many of whom had simply lost consciousness, were then thrown back into the trucks and reportedly, under the orders of an American official, taken out to the desert. One of the persons who witnessed this was told by the American official, "Get rid of them. Just get them out of here before satellite pictures can be taken."

The bones and clothes of these 3000 have been found in a mass grave in sands at Dasht Leile.

Andy McEntee, the former chairman of Amnesty International of Great Britain and now the Human Rights director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and film director Jamie Doran, have documented these deaths in a film entitled “Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death”.

This film has been seen throughout the world, but has received little attention in the United States. I urge each of you to watch this documentary and press the Department of Defense to investigate the allegations contained in the film.

As a retired US Army colonel with a background in the Law of Warfare, I believe deeply that our military is built on honor and integrity. Soldiers are well-trained and know their responsibilities. Those who break known rules jeopardize the honor and integrity of the others. Therefore it is incumbent upon senior leaders of the US military, for the protection of the majority of excellent soldiers, to honestly investigate these allegations.

Lack of balance in Israel-Palestinian Policies

As a final comment, I believe the administration’s actions have created and are continuing to create a huge flow of negative feelings toward America. The level of dislike in other countries (many that have been our consistent allies) for administration policies is extraordinarily very high.

Lack of US effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the perception in the Arab and Moslem world that US policies are overwhelming pro-Israeli are fueling a tremendous anti-American feeling in the Moslem world and elsewhere. The administration veto against the UN resolution condemning Israel’s barrier fence that separates workers from their employment, divides farmers from their farms and generally disrupts Palestinian life in order to protect illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory is guaranteed to continue anti-American feeling. The administration’s weak comments when Israel attacked Syria and virtual green light for Israel to destroy houses in Rafah increases anti-American feeling in the region.

And now we have a Palestinian group successfully targeting American embassy vehicle and personnel with a bomb detonated under a passing embassy convoy. When in the eyes of Palestinians and other of the Moslem world, America’s Middle East policy and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Middle East policy are impossible to distinguish, and then we should anticipate that we could become the targets of suicide bombers as have Israelis.

No US administration has used the ultimate chip in the Israel-Palestinian conflict—the 4.5 billion dollar subsidy the US gives to Israel each year. I suggest that at some point, the circle of violence between the two protagonists will be broken when Israel is forced to deal in an honest and forthright manner on land settlements, barrier fences and occupation issues. I believe the only way to get Israel to such a point is withholding large amounts of the US financial subsidies to Israel.


To end, I wish to state again that I believe the administration’s rationale of going to war in Iraq was faulty and dangerous. I am firmly convinced the actions of the administration have put our nation’s economy at risk. I feel the actions of the administration in the past year have placed our nation’s security at even greater at risk. I know the administration’s actions have lowered America’s moral stature in the eyes of most of the citizens of the world.

I truly feel the decisions of the administration have made not only America, but the world, a more dangerous, not a safer place.



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