ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign
The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005
Setting the Stage
The US Army's Historical Legacy of Military Operations Other Than War and the Planning for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM
Doctrine, Training, and Education
Unfortunately, the US Army’s experience with stability and support operations in the Balkans, Haiti, Somalia, and numerous other locations did not lead American Soldiers to internalize these types of operations as a core mission. As stated earlier, US Soldiers tended to view conventional warfighting as their main purpose, and the Army has traditionally reinforced that mindset. Some observers, both within and outside the Army, characterize this tendency as troubling and believe it explains why the Army sometimes had difficulties transitioning to these types of operations.38 John D. Waghelstein, a US Army veteran of stability and support operations in Vietnam and El Salvador, contends that the Army has been “institutionally preoccupied with the ‘big war’” and has shown “habitual disdain for studying ‘little war’ requirements.”39 He attributes this weakness to a permanent institutional mentality rather than the product of experience and careful analysis, writing, “There is something in the Army’s DNA that historically precludes it from preparing itself for the problems of insurgency.”40
In reality, how the Army as an institution makes decisions about its role and the corresponding nature of its doctrine is complex. The Army does not develop its doctrine in a vacuum based solely on its own understanding of its mission or its own whims. Instead, doctrine is based on federal law, guidance received from the National Security Strategy and the National Military Strategy of the United States, Joint Doctrine, and other forms of strategic and budgetary guidance from the DOD. Obviously, the Army brings to the process its own historical, cultural, and institutional views of what it can and ought to do. Among those is the belief that victory in a conventional war is a matter of national survival and, therefore, the primary purpose of the Army. In the 20th century, the US Army has had a unique international role as the guarantor of freedom for the United States and its allies as a result of its conventional military prowess. Both are good and sound reasons for focusing on conventional conflict.
While Waghelstein and other observers have carefully documented the US Army’s preference for viewing itself as an institution that fights conventional wars, it is incorrect to state that American Soldiers have historically ignored stability and support operations, failed to provide doctrine for these types of operations, or been unwilling to train for them. Indeed, the US Army’s attitude toward stability and support operations has been complex, ambivalent, and subject to change based on a myriad of external factors, such as the development of technology, national military strategic goals, and the evolution of the geopolitical landscape.
The Army’s doctrine for stability and support operations has evolved over time, and these changes have influenced the preparation of Soldiers in Army education and training institutions. Within the US Army, the term “doctrine” is defined as “the concise expression of how Army forces contribute to unified action in campaigns, major operations, battles and engagements . . . [and] also describes the Army’s approach and contribution to full spectrum operations on land. Army doctrine is authoritative, but not prescriptive.”41 Traditionally, field regulations, textbooks used in Army schools, and other official guidance made up the body of works recognized by most Soldiers as their doctrine. However, this set of guidelines was rarely static and never became the sole source for directions on how to conduct operations. In fact, informal guidelines—developed by individuals and units based on their experiences—often played a significant role in how the Army operated. Still, written doctrine carried with it the official sanction of the institution, and greatly influenced how the Army used resources, designed school curriculums, and established training programs.
Historically speaking, formal doctrine for stability and support operations is a recent phenomenon. Despite the fact that the US Army has conducted stability and support operations since its inception, doctrine for these operations was a rarity until the middle of the 20th century.42 Instead of using written guidance, Soldiers tended to pass on the accumulated wisdom derived from campaigns on the Western frontier and in other theaters in informal ways. As historian Andrew Birtle has shown, the American Army often relied on a unit’s older, more experienced Soldiers to teach the younger members how to mount counterinsurgency operations or civic-assistance efforts.43
Formal doctrine for stability and support operations would not emerge until World War II. As the US Army began preparing for peacekeeping and occupation duties in Germany, Japan, and other liberated countries, Army officials began to set down the principles and methods required for success in these types of missions. The basic doctrinal guidelines appeared in 1943 in FM 27-5, United States Army and Navy Manual of Military Government and Civil Affairs. This single manual served as the doctrine for nonconventional operations until the outbreak of Communist-led insurgencies in the first decade of the Cold War led the Kennedy administration to push the American military establishment, especially the Army, to adopt counterinsurgency operations as one of its most important missions.44 This change signaled less of a turning away from conventional warfighting than a realization by the Army that it must react to the realities of new strategic objectives and challenges in a reconstructed geopolitical environment.
The recognition of counterinsurgency as a core mission had a major impact on US Army doctrine. In the 1962 version of the Army’s keystone manual, FM 100-5, Field Service Regulations–Operations, doctrine writers directly addressed nonconventional operations for the first time with chapters devoted to “Unconventional Warfare,” “Military Operations against Irregular Forces,” and “Situations Short of War.”45 Two years later, the Army expanded its guidelines on these types of missions by publishing FM 100-20, Field Service Regulations–Counterinsurgency. The next major statement of the Army’s general direction and objectives came in 1968, at the height of US involvement in Vietnam, and reflected the Army’s focus on operations in that country. This new doctrinal manual, FM 100-5, Operations of Army Forces in the Field, included an expanded section on unconventional warfare and introduced guidelines on how to conduct “Cold War Operations” and “Stability and Support Operations,” the Army’s newest term for counterinsurgency and related missions.46 More detailed manuals such as FM 31-23, Stability Operations, and FM 31-73, Advisor Handbook for Stability Operations, both of which were unprecedented when published in 1967, further documented the shift in the Army’s general doctrinal outlook and its commitment to nonconventional operations.
This commitment weakened dramatically as the Vietnam conflict came to a close in the early 1970s. In doctrinal terms, the first hint of this change in attitude emerged in the 1972 version of FM 31-23, Stability Operations, that stated the Army’s role in these missions should be “primarily advisory,” and warned American Soldiers to avoid becoming heavily involved in the politics and civilian institutions of the countries where these operations were conducted.47 By 1976 the Army had completed its retreat from stability and support operations by publishing a new version of its capstone manual, FM 100-5, Operations, which focused exclusively on fighting conventional battles in Europe. While this manual emerged just 3 years after the end of the US involvement in Vietnam, it contained no mention of irregular forces, counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, or stability and support operations. The Army’s focus clearly reflected the nation’s focus on the overwhelming Soviet military threat to US and NATO interests. For the next 15 years, the Army continued to emphasize its primary mission as high-intensity combat. Army doctrine reflected this core mission with little attention paid to unconventional operations.48
The demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in 1991 dramatically altered global international relations and consequently caused a reexamination of US security policy. Naturally, the end of the Soviet threat and the emergence of new threats significantly disrupted how the US Army viewed its purpose. With the dissolution of its main conventional adversary, the Army began to recast its role in American security policy. The most significant change in Army doctrine after 1991 was the reemergence of stability and support operations as missions the Army might have to perform in the post-Cold War era. The 1993 version of FM 100-5 devoted an entire chapter to operations other than war, a term that included humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping operations, and support for counterinsurgency.49 Doctrine writers then gave greater structure to the Army’s understanding and conduct of these operations in manuals such as FM 100-23, Peace Operations, published in 1994.
Less formal doctrine concerning stability and support operations appeared in the 1990s in a variety of formats and supplemented the Army’s official guidelines for these missions. These works often resulted from after-action reviews or similar reports produced by units that served in Somalia, Haiti, or the Balkans. A good example of this supplemental doctrine is the handbook created in 1998 by the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division (1st CAV) for the unit’s rotation to Bosnia as part of SFOR. Titled simply Peace Support Operations, the book offered great detail on how to conduct a wide array of tasks, from patrolling and vehicle searches at checkpoints to giving interviews to media representatives.50 The Army published this document and many others on the official Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) Web site, a database that offered Soldiers worldwide access for use in preparation for and conduct of stability and support operations.
The experiences of the 1st CAV and the other units conducting stability and support operations between 1993 and 2001 contributed to the publication of two important doctrinal works that established the Army’s thinking about these missions at the beginning of the 21st century. As described in the introduction to this study, the 2001 edition of the Army’s capstone manual, FM 3-0, Operations, stated unequivocally that, because of the new post-Cold War geopolitical setting, American Soldiers had to be prepared to conduct a variety of missions along what it called “the full spectrum of operations.” This spectrum certainly included major combat operations. In fact, FM 3-0 reinforced the Army’s preeminent purpose as “fighting and winning the nation’s wars.” In addition, the full spectrum also encompassed stability and support operations. In support of this concept, FM 3-0 devoted two chapters to the discussion of how the Army approached stability and support operations. More definitive, however, was the publication of FM 3-07, Stability Operations and Support Operations, in February 2003. Issued just 1 month before the beginning of OIF, this manual became the Army’s most comprehensive statement about stability and support operations since the end of the Vietnam war. Arriving after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the start of the US campaign in Afghanistan, FM 3-07 reasserted that the geopolitical environment of the 21st century would demand that the US military have the capacity to conduct stability and support operations and that “Army capabilities are often the best choice to meet the requirement” of this new strategic environment.51 The new doctrine addressed general planning principles and offered guidance on a variety of stability missions such as peacekeeping, counterinsurgency, counterdrug, and counterterrorism operations.
The US Army that entered Iraq in March 2003 accepted stability and support operations as operational requirements, and could even refer to published doctrine that established a formal approach to those operations. However, doctrine has limited influence if it is not disseminated and practiced through the means of education and training. To determine how well the Army prepared its Soldiers to conduct stability and support operations, one must examine the historical place of this subject within the curriculum of the US Army school and training systems. Not surprisingly, the last four decades have shown that the classroom and training resources assigned to the subject of stability and support operations depended directly on how Army doctrine portrayed these missions and on the Army’s operational requirements at the time.
The best starting point for this survey is the late 1950s. Before the middle of the 20th century, the Army did offer a limited amount of instruction on stability and support operations, but it was confined primarily to schools such as Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC), which served the officer corps.52 As counterinsurgency evolved into one of the Army’s main missions and as Vietnam heated up, formal preparation for stability and support operations in general expanded within the school and training system. By 1966 the Army had developed several courses that focused solely on counterinsurgency operations and, perhaps more importantly, had integrated counterinsurgency lessons into the curriculums of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) units, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and officer schools at all levels. Similar efforts added primary lessons on counterinsurgency to the program of instruction for recruits at basic training. The Army also mandated that maneuver units add counterinsurgency operations to their yearly training calendar. Following this guidance, many divisions held full-scale exercises, often in civilian areas near military posts where they could practice civic assistance, negotiation skills, and other counterinsurgency tasks.53
While never eclipsing instruction on conventional operations, this emphasis on stability and support operations in the Army’s education and training systems remained prominent throughout the Vietnam years. In the wake of the Vietnam war, doctrine turned decisively away from stability and support operations, and the Army began reducing the amount of resources committed to the teaching and training of counterinsurgency operations.54 By 1979, for example, the US Army Infantry School at Fort Benning had completely eliminated counterinsurgency from its curriculum for junior officers. Field grade officers who attended CGSC that same year only received 8 hours of instruction on stability and support operations over the entire 10-month course.55 In line with the nation’s general aversion to unconventional conflict and its focus on the Soviet military threat, the Army’s education system maintained its emphasis on conventional warfighting skills and operations well into the 1990s.
After victory in the Cold War, the Army began to broaden its training focus to include stability and support operations. In the 1990s, the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), located at Fort Polk, Louisiana, became the Army’s premier site for the training of nonmechanized units. Each year 10 brigades (each consisting of approximately 3,500 Soldiers) from the Army’s Light Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault, and Special Forces units deployed to JRTC to improve their skills in conducting a range of missions that included stability and support operations and conventional combat. Typical rotations to the training center forced combat maneuver units to engage actors who played the roles of civilian refugees, members of NGOs and the media, insurgents, and terrorists.56 Soldiers learned to deal with problems posed by these civilian players by employing CA teams and human intelligence (HUMINT) collectors to negotiate with civilians, providing civic assistance, and developing sources of information that could help prevent attacks on US troops in the exercise. The training scenarios punished the units that performed these operations poorly by allowing mock terrorists to attack US forces. Those units that conducted these missions well avoided the debilitating terrorist assaults.
Beginning in 1997 the Army expanded its training for stability and support operations in response to the real demands of Bosnia and Kosovo. JRTC and the US Army Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC), located in Hohenfels, Germany, became sites that provided tailored training for units preparing to deploy to the Balkans. These units participated in structured mission-rehearsal and mission-readiness exercises that placed Soldiers in terrain and situations closely resembling what they would encounter in Bosnia and later in Kosovo.57 The training area included mock villages populated by specific political, religious, and ethnic groups. JRTC and CMTC also placed NGOs in the training areas and created scenarios in which units had to coordinate with these organizations, negotiate with village leaders, support civic-assistance missions, and conduct more routine peacekeeping missions such as convoy operations and force-protection activities.
While not all of the Army’s units attended the JRTC or the CMTC to prepare for stability and support operations, by the end of the 1990s the Army had developed doctrine, education, and training for these missions. This effort, combined with the individual and collective experience gained in conducting actual stability and support operations during the 1990s, created a solid base of practice and theory. There were, of course, major gaps in the Army’s preparation for stability and support operations. Doctrinal guidelines for these operations were not perfect or comprehensive. For example, few units had conducted counterinsurgency operations since the Vietnam war, and until 2003 the Army committed relatively few resources to the updating of doctrine or training for counterinsurgency. Overall, the largest practical shortcoming was that despite the training and doctrine, individual and unit experience with stability and support operations across the Army was uneven at best.
Recent Military Operations Other Than War, 1989–2000
Doctrine, Training, and Education
Soldiering in Stability and Support Operations: The Legacy of 1991–2002
Planning for Stability and Support Operations in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM
The Planning for Phase IV—Operations after Toppling the Saddam Regime
Assessing Phase IV Plans for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM
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