Monday, October 03, 2005

What went wrong, version 1

The Independent has a copy of a military report on what happened in No Man's Land. Expect more finger-pointing as time passes:
[The report] charts how "corruption and mismanagement within the New Orleans city government" had "diverted money earmarked for improving flood protection to other, more vote-getting, projects. Past mayors and governors gambled that the long-expected Big Killer hurricane would never happen. That bet was lost with Hurricane Katrina."

The report concludes that although the US military did a good job in carrying out emergency missions, there were some serious shortcomings.

The report states that Brigadier General Michael D Barbero, commander of the Joint Readiness Training Centre at Fort Polk, Louisiana, refused permission for special forces units who volunteered to join relief efforts, to do so. General Barbero also refused to release other troops.

"The same general did take in some families from Hurricane Katrina, but only military families living off the base," the report says. "He has done a similar thing for military families displaced by Hurricane Rita. However, he declined to share water with the citizens of Leesville, who are out of water, and his civil affairs staff have to sneak off post in civilian clothes to help coordinate relief efforts." The report says deployment in the Iraq war led to serious problems. "Another major factor in the delayed response to the hurricane aftermath was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard was deployed in Iraq.

"Even though all the states have 'compacts' with each other, pledging to come to the aid of other states, it takes time, money and effort to activate and deploy National Guard troops from other states to fill in".

… Not one civil affairs unit was deployed for either hurricane."

The report concludes: "The one thing this disaster has demonstrated [is] the lack of coordinated, in-depth planning and training on all levels of Government, for any/all types of emergency contingencies. 9/11 was an exception because the geographical area was small and contained, but these two hurricanes have clearly demonstrated a national response weakness ... Failure to plan, and train properly has plagued US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States."
No one disputes that the state and local governments could have done more, the problem is that the federal government was the only one with the resources to respond to this level of crisis.

It's clear that there are too few civil affairs units and too few were deployed in the aftermath of the hurricanes. These are the units designed to establish local political order, to handle the public. As the last paragraph notes, that's something that we've failed at not just on the Gulf, but in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also in Somalia and Kosovo.

It happens that most of the civil affairs units are in the National Guard and Reserve units, which works well when they're handling domestic disaster relief, but it sucks when we're committed to multiple peacekeeping missions which need those units, too.

The only way to get an honest accounting of what went wrong and what should have gone better is to have an independent, non-partisan or bi-partisan commission. Otherwise, all we'll get is fingerpointing, and the same nonsense repeating over and over.

Greg Beck has some nice words on the topic, too.

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