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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part I

Setting the Stage

Chapter 3
The Rise of the Iraqi Insurgency and the US Army's Response


The Coalition Response to the Iraqi Threat

The US Army units that entered Iraq in April 2003 had not been trained to combat the type of insurgent forces that developed over the summer of that year. This lack of preparedness had as much to do with US assumptions about the situation in Iraq after the toppling of the Saddam regime as it did with the actual capabilities of Army units in Iraq at the time. As this chapter has demonstrated, few in the American Government had expected an insurgency to emerge in post-Saddam Iraq, and the US Armed Forces had done little to prepare for such an event. Most of the American Soldiers in Iraq in 2003 had trained to fight conventional wars with conventional weapons. Although Army doctrine held that all units had to be ready to conduct full spectrum operations, which included stability and support operations as well as combat missions, most units had not prepared to do so in Iraq. Moreover, with the exception of US Army Special Forces, very few Soldiers had experience in conducting counterinsurgency operations. To be sure, many American Soldiers had conducted stability operations in the previous decade in Bosnia and Kosovo and were familiar with the operational requirements of peacekeeping and rudimentary nation building. Reconstruction programs, psychological operations (PSYOP), intelligence activities, and civic action efforts accomplished by US Soldiers in the Balkans and elsewhere were missions the Army expected all units to be able to conduct under its overarching doctrine of full spectrum operations. More significantly, counterinsurgency theorists generally consider these noncombat missions—reconstruction, PSYOP, civic action—as requisite elements of any comprehensive and effective counterinsurgency campaign.

However, the security environment in the Balkans had been relatively benign. No insurgent force had risen in Bosnia or Kosovo to challenge the might of the US Army and its partners. Only the UN mission in Somalia in 1992 brought US forces into a situation where they faced an armed irregular force willing to use a variety of measures, including organized insurgent operations, to end the US effort. American Special Operations Forces did mount a small number of counterinsurgent operations to meet this threat, but conventional Army units in Somalia remained largely uninvolved.

Given this lack of experience in combating insurgencies, it should not be surprising that US Army counterinsurgency doctrine and training had withered in the decade after the end of the Cold War. When al-Qaeda launched its attacks on the United States in September 2001, the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine had not been updated since 1990. That doctrine, included in FM 100-20, Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict, described in broad terms the goals and methods of insurgencies and then offered a series of basic principles and organizational guidelines to American commanders who might become involved in fighting an insurgency. Nevertheless, FM 100-20 lacked critical detail and the conventional focus of US Army training in the 1990s did not provide lessons that might have filled this gap. The US Army thus entered the Global War on Terrorism without detailed training for or broad experience in conducting the type of complex operations necessary to defeat insurgent forces.

Instead of relying on institutional experience or well-established doctrine, each American unit in Iraq in the summer of 2003 tended to focus on their immediate challenges and ultimately each took a unique approach to the problems it perceived in their area of responsibility (AOR). In many cases, the commander’s perception of the threat became the most important factor driving the unit’s approach. Understanding the threat was central because of the common assumption among Army leaders that security was required before the population could be engaged more broadly. In this early period, establishing security often meant a focus on offensive operations that targeted the insurgent network. At the same time, it is critical to emphasize that all the units examined for this study used a full-spectrum approach to their operations in Iraq, integrating into their campaigns efforts to recruit and train ISF, rebuild infrastructure, and introduce new governance. The commander and staff of CJTF-7, the tactical and operational headquarters guiding the American divisions in Iraq in 2003, recognized the local character of each unit’s campaign and, as will be described in more detail below, crafted a campaign plan that allowed for a great deal of flexibility and initiative at the unit level.


Chapter 3. The Rise of the Iraqi Insurgency and the US Army’s Response

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