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Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future


Key lessons

  • Close US/UK working relationships and liaison, both military and civilian, at all levels were key to coalition planning for the operation. Such relationships should continue routinely to be cultivated at every level with the US and other potential coalition partners. However, each coalition operation will be different, and key liaison appointments and requirements should be reviewed at the outset of planning for a new operation.
  • The implications of maintaining contact and congruence with US technological and doctrinal advances should continue to be assessed.
  • The UK must be prepared to operate with both traditional allies and less familiar partners. UK forces must be organised, trained and resourced for interoperability with partners.
  • The UK's efforts to encourage key allies early on to contribute to the stabilisation force in Iraq were successful. Co-operation between MOD and the FCO, and co-ordination between the UK and the US, were key to this success.
  • The coalition secured important assistance in the build-up to the conflict from a wide range of countries. However, Host Nation Support cannot be taken for granted: the UK should continue to cultivate both existing and potential international partners in emerging trouble spots in order to ensure access.
  • Regular training and cross-fertilisation with US forces are required to promote interoperability when UK forces are deployed in a US-led or backed coalition. Achieving interoperability requires extensive information sharing between the US and UK.
  • A Combat identification (Combat ID) concept of operations should be available early in the preparation phase of an operation. Doctrine and peacetime training need to reflect the Combat ID requirements of coalition operations.

Coalition Strategic Planning

7.1  Given the scale of its force contribution, the US inevitably led the planning for the campaign against Iraq. First Reflections7 described how, although the UK did not make final decisions on the composition and deployment of its force packages until early 2003, we were able to work closely with the US and influence the campaign from initial planning to execution. This was achieved through high-level political contacts and regular dialogue at official level, as well as by the presence of embedded UK officers in key US headquarters.

7.2  The US is expected to continue to play a leading role in world affairs for the foreseeable future and remain the predominant military superpower. If the UK is to join the US in future operations, we shall need to continue to be close to US policy-making and planning and, subject to affordability, be able to operate with its technological dominance and military doctrine. This will require a clear understanding of, and involvement in, emerging US military and political concepts and doctrine. To this end, it will be essential to continue to sustain liaison with high levels in the Pentagon and key US headquarters.

7.3  Different groups of nations will continue to contribute to international and regional security in response to rogue states, terrorism and trans-national threats. In this context, UK forces, in addition to working with the growing coalition of nations now in Iraq, are likely to continue their current deployment pattern in support of NATO, EU and UN operations. However, the UK may also have to operate with unfamiliar partners and address consequent problems with force packaging, standardisation of procedures and equipment, and Combat identification (Combat ID). In this context, the significant contribution by UK Defence and Liaison staffs overseas, including Defence Attachs, to the planning and prosecution of the Iraq operation, underlined the importance of understanding the particular national sensitivities and objectives of allies and other nations.

Wider International and Coalition Issues

7.4  The UK played a major role in bringing key allies into the coalition through co-ordinated lobbying with the US. A coalition of some 40 countries was rapidly assembled, committing troops, providing logistical or basing rights or giving political support. This commitment has been sustained and expanded by ongoing diplomatic dialogue and by a number of conferences held in London by FCO and MOD. There are now 32 states contributing forces to the Multinational Stabilisation Force in Iraq, of which nine are in the UK's area of operations (see para 11.20).

7.5  Despite differences in the UN Security Council, the UK continued to work well with UN operations and agencies before and after the conflict. The UK also developed a good relationship with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) both in London and in theatre. UK support enabled ICRC staff to remain in Iraq and provide services during the conflict whereas most Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and the UN withdrew. The Department for International Development also maintained a good relationship with the NGO community. Cooperation with the US and Japan at official level helped ensure that the International Energy Agency managed tensions in the international oil market well, thus containing the risks of an oil crisis.

A Tornado GR4 refuels from a KC-10 tanker of the US Air Force
A Tornado GR4 refuels from a KC-10 tanker of the US Air Force

Host Nation Support

7.6  The coalition secured important logistical and basing assistance in the build-up to the conflict from a wide range of countries, not only traditional allies. Nonetheless, the operation demonstrated that obtaining basing rights and other support from nations near the area of operations cannot be taken for granted. This risk can be mitigated by the adoption of a range of measures including access to bases elsewhere, the possession of longer range, high-endurance platforms, and the use of capabilities that enable strategic access at a time and place of our choice. In this context, as described in Chapter 4, the UK Maritime Contingent's support to operations ashore in Iraq demonstrated the advantage of being able to provide support from the sea in addition to that provided from land bases and host nations. However, this is unlikely to provide more than a partial solution, and the UK will need to continue to cultivate existing and potential partners in areas of possible crisis in order to ensure theatre access, taking into account possible competition from coalition partners.


7.7  It is probable that any future UK medium- or large-scale war-fighting operation will be fought in a US-led or -backed coalition. Working with the US in a coalition brings political, diplomatic and military advantages, including the aggregation of capabilities, flexible war-fighting options and the sharing of intelligence and risk. UK forces need to be commanded, structured, equipped and trained with this in mind. Although the UK cannot afford to match US capability on a pro rata basis, it should be possible to achieve congruence by optimising key existing and emerging capabilities. UK forces' ability to work alongside US forces was fully tested in Iraq and many of the ensuing lessons concern interoperability issues, particularly communications. However, the first step towards interoperability is to ensure doctrine is coherent and relevant to US-led operations. For example, the ease with which 1(UK) Armoured Division integrated with the US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was helped by similar doctrine, and the RAF's ability to integrate seamlessly with the US Air Force reflected 12 years of operating together in the no-fly zones over Iraq.

7.8  The overwhelming success of 'rapid, decisive operations' can be characterised by the combination of effects-based warfare and network centric warfare - a system of war-fighting that provides the best tools for the job, in the shortest time and with the greatest effect. The use of fast-moving, heavy effect forces, utilising 'smart technology', near real-time day and night shared situational awareness and network solutions, linked to on-station or long range air power, was validated in Iraq. The US ability to combine land and air operations and support them from the sea and from friendly bases at very high tempo enabled the mix and impact of joint assets to be adjusted to operational need or the unexpected, across the whole theatre of operations. The characteristics of speed, simultaneity, multiple choice of effects and precision seem to offer solutions to situations in which time is of the essence in achieving operational objectives by the use of force, and where the ability to influence rapidly the perception, will and behaviour of an opponent may be critical. This wide choice, effects-based approach is likely to dominate US doctrinal development and will require potential partners to adjust their force structures if they are to maintain congruence and contact with an accelerating US technological and doctrinal pre-eminence.

UK/US Operational and Training Experience

7.9  The planning and conduct of the Iraq operation was facilitated by the close professional relationship that has developed between the US and UK, not only as leading members of NATO, but also through numerous bilateral and institutional contacts, and the benefits of training and operating together over many years (see paras 9.29 and 9.37). Some UK personnel deployed on the operation had trained regularly with the US and had developed a thorough understanding of US military culture and ethos, as well as their equipment, training and doctrine. This understanding partly offset the differences between UK and US military cultures and equipment.

A UK desert camp
A UK desert camp

Combat Identification

7.10  Combat ID enables military forces to distinguish friend from foe during operations, enhancing combat effectiveness while minimising the risk of accidental engagement of friendly or allied forces, otherwise known as fratricide or 'Blue-on-Blue' incidents. The range of measures taken to provide protection for operations in the Gulf was described in First Reflections8. Regrettably a number of fratricide incidents occurred which are under investigation. Experience in this and previous campaigns and the prospect of future operations of increasing pace, intensity and complexity indicate that efforts cannot be relaxed in this key area. MOD policy on Combat ID emphasises that minimising the risk of fratricide requires a combination of improved tactics, techniques and procedures, enhanced situational awareness and target identification devices. While our aim is to provide UK forces with as effective a Combat ID system as possible, regrettably no system is 100% failsafe, no matter how sophisticated the technology. Moreover, solutions must be interoperable with likely allies.

7First Reflections: Page 32 para 6.2
8 First Reflections: Page 25, para 4.15

 Chapter 6 - The Air Environment
Chapter 8 - Logisitics 

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