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Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future


1.1  Earlier this year, some 46,000 UK Servicemen and women joined a US-led coalition military operations against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. The campaign began on 20 and by 1 May President Bush had declared the end of major combat operations, although the regime had been removed and most of Iraq taken under coalition control after just weeks. The background to the conflict, and the planning, deployment and combat phases the operation, together with some early lessons identified, were described in the Ministry Defence (MOD) report "Operations in Iraq First Reflections" 2 (hereafter referred to as First Reflections). This report provides a deeper analysis of the lessons we have drawn operation, together with a more detailed insight into particular combat missions, and describes the continuing coalition operation to bring stability and regeneration to Iraq since the end combat phase.

The MOD Lessons Process

1.2  MOD has a well-established and comprehensive process for identifying and implementing the lessons from operations. This requires all Service units, MOD directorates and agencies involved in an operation, whether in theatre or elsewhere, to submit frank reports via command on their experiences. Such reports highlight areas where things worked well, is a deliberate focus on identifying lessons in areas where we need to continue to future. This process culminates in an overall internal report on the operation. The implementation of the lessons identified, where necessary and possible, is then closely monitored. This publication, with the earlier First Reflections report, represents the Department's account to Parliament and the public on the results of that process for operations in Iraq.

1.3  The identification and evaluation of lessons from operations takes time. It is neither to make snap judgements, nor to take inappropriate action in response to lessons that may be unique to the circumstances of a particular operation. Moreover, it is essential to gather and analyse evidence to support individual lessons. Careful judgements then have to be made what action should be taken in response to lessons that have been identified. The is finite, and difficult decisions are constantly required as to the prioritisation of demands resources, taking into account factors such as business and operational risk. All lessons requiring action are allocated an 'action lead' to ensure they are implemented as soon as practicable or resources permit.

1.4  In drawing lessons from coalition operations in Iraq, it is important first to set the operation in context. This was primarily a US-shaped and led operation, with the UK force contribution adopted into US plans where it could best complement and enhance US capabilities. Coalition military capabilities effectively dominated the battlespace, such that Iraqi opposition was rapidly overcome. The operation was conducted at a time of the coalition's choosing, and coalition forces enjoyed technical superiority in nearly all areas. They could, for example, operate through most conditions of visibility and weather, day and night. Moreover, the Iraqi armed forces had been seriously weakened during the first Gulf Conflict and by over a decade of sanctions and containment, and failed to mount a co-ordinated defensive campaign in response to coalition attack.

1.5   Work now continues to identify the best and most cost-effective solution to address each of the lessons identified. As solutions are identified and validated, they will be implemented as rapidly as possible. A number of major reviews have been set in hand, and where these have already resulted in new policy they are outlined in this report. Other changes are even now benefiting the ongoing operations in Iraq, including the increase in mobilisation notice for reserves. Where solutions have significant cost implications, they will be taken forward into the Departmental planning round for consideration. The lessons process has also identified many areas of success, and here the process will be used to support and improve existing practice. As a result of these streams of work across the Department addressing all aspects of the operation, our experiences during the Iraq campaign will benefit future military operations and help to develop further the Armed Forces' expeditionary strategy.

A Fusilier gets to know the locals in Basrah
A Fusilier gets to know the locals in Basrah

2 Published 7 July 2003

Chapter 2 - Planning and Force Generation 

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