August 21, 2005

Iraq: The Chain of Command

From an interview with an Associated Press reporter as reported in today's Washington Post:

"U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker said the Army is prepared for the 'worst case' in terms of the required level of troops in Iraq. He said the number could be adjusted lower if called for by slowing the force rotation or by shortening tours for soldiers. Schoomaker said commanders in Iraq and others who are in the chain of command will decide how many troops will be needed next year and beyond. His responsibility is to provide them, trained and equipped."

For those who might be confused as to why the Army's senior officer referred to "commanders in Iraq and others who are in the chain of command," an explanation might be in order. Although Schoomaker is the chief of staff of the Army, he has no command responsibilities. In 1987, the Goldwater-Nichols Act became law and delineated the chain of command for the armed forces.

The President is the commander in chief. He issues orders to the Secretary of Defense, who in turn gives orders to the commander of the combatant command. Most of these commands are organized regionally, although not always (for example, Strategic Command and Transportation Command have worldwide responsibilities). In the case of Iraq, the combatant command is the United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida (in Tampa). The commander* of CENTCOM, General John Abizaid is responsible for conducting operations in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq. In Iraq, General Abizaid issues orders to General George Casey, commander of the Multinational Force-Iraq. All American military personnel and Defense Department civilians answer to General Casey.

Note the absence of several well-known positions. As we said before, the Army chief of staff is not in the chain of command, nor are the Air Force chief of staff, the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps. Also note that the nation's senior military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is not in the chain of command. The Chairman serves as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the President. The four service chiefs are responsible (and have been since 1947) for providing trained and equipped forces to the combatant commanders.

* Up until the current administration, the commanders of the combatant commands were called commander in chief of that command, such as CINCCENT. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld changed this with the remark that there is only one commander in chief, the President.