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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 II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 4
Leading the New Campaign: Transitions in Command and Control in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM


Phase III to Phase IV of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM

On 9 April 2003 when Sergeant Kirk Dalrymple and other US Marines pulled down Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, the headquarters of CENTCOM oversaw the war in Iraq from its location in Florida. Its warfighting forward command post directed operations out of the Gulf nation of Qatar. CFLCC led the ground war from Camp Doha in Kuwait. Under CFLCC’s supervision, British forces were consolidating their occupation of southern Iraq around the city of Basrah. Meanwhile the US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1st MEF) had occupied Baghdad east of the Tigris River. The US Army’s main tactical headquarters, V Corps, was still south of Baghdad while the 3d Infantry Division (3d ID), the spearhead of the V Corps attack into Baghdad, consolidated in Baghdad and its environs to the south, west, and north. Simultaneously, the 101st Airborne Division (101st ABN) and the 2d Brigade of the 82d Airborne Division (82d ABN), having fought hard in An Najaf, Karbala, and Al Hillah to destroy Iraqi forces along the V Corps’ lines of communication back to Kuwait, established their forces in the Shia cities south of Baghdad.

During this phase of the war the US military chain of command operated according to joint doctrine, leading directly from the President to the Secretary of Defense to CENTCOM and then on to the CFLCC. McKiernan’s headquarters issued orders to the 1st MEF, V Corps, and British forces that then conducted the fighting to accomplish their tactical and operational objectives. Unity of command ensured unity of effort during the fighting in accordance with traditional military practice. What would happen after Coalition forces toppled the Saddam regime was less clear. As chapter 2 has illustrated, great uncertainty existed about the nature of postwar Iraq, about the political and military leadership in Iraq once Saddam was toppled, and about which military headquarters would be tasked with the mission of turning the military victory into political success. The Coalition and CENTCOM Commander, General Franks, believed by mid-April that it was time to transition Phase IV operations and put a new Iraqi Government in place. During his first visit to Baghdad on 16 April 2003, Franks tacitly acknowledged this transition in his “Freedom Message” to the Iraqi people:

I, General Tommy R. Franks, Commander of Coalition Forces, do hereby proclaim that: Coalition forces have come as liberators, not conquerors. . . . The Coalition is committed to helping the people of Iraq heal their wounds, build their own representative government, . . . Iraq and its property belong to the Iraqi people and the Coalition makes no claim of ownership by force of arms.1

As the Coalition’s ground force commander during the invasion, Lieutenant General McKiernan also had responsibility for the conclusion of Phase III combat operations and the start of Phase IV operations. But based on prewar planning assumptions in the DOD and at CENTCOM, CFLCC was counting on the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), the State Department, Iraqi expatriates, the Iraqi Government, and international organizations to eventually take the lead after regime change. CFLCC’s deputy commander, Major General William Webster, recalled how these assumptions shaped the overall land component command’s planning for what came after the removal of the Saddam regime:

There was seriously not anything but a skeleton of Phase IV until very late. We had assumptions given to us by CENTCOM that said that the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) or the State Department was going to come in early and perform all Phase IV operations. Our requirement would be to stand up the Iraqi Army again, get them training and organized and back on their feet, and to provide security. All along, General Franks said that the Secretary of Defense wanted us to quickly leave and turn over post-hostilities to international organizations (IOs) and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) led by ORHA. That was the notion.2

Thus, on 16 April 2003 as Franks arrived in Baghdad to make his address, the impact of incomplete and uncoordinated prewar planning was about to set in with significant negative effects on the US Army, OIF, and Iraq.

As April ended, the makeup of US Army combat forces in Iraq was rapidly changing. Some units were still moving into Iraq while others had their deployments canceled and some were ordered home. V Corps headquarters was moving to consolidate in and to the north of Baghdad itself. The 4th Infantry Division (4th ID) was just entering Iraq via Kuwait after Turkey denied access to its territory. The 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (2d ACR) was ordered to deploy in late March, and on 8 April 2003 it began securing the lines of communication (LOCs) extending northward out of Kuwait.3 The 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (3d ACR) was deploying into Kuwait and by late April would initially be sent to operate in Al Anbar province in western Iraq, which had yet to be occupied by Coalition forces.

The two Germany-based brigades of the 1st Armored Division (1st AD) received orders to deploy on 28 February 2003, after having been shelved from the plan entirely the month before. Their new mission was to secure the LOCs from Kuwait into Iraq and to be prepared for further operations as needed.4 Two battalions of the 3d Brigade, 1st AD, had earlier deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas, to Kuwait, and fought under three different divisions before being reunited with the 1st AD in late May. The 1st AD loaded its equipment at the European ports of Bremerhaven, Rotterdam, and Antwerp in April. Once they arrived in theater in early and mid-May, the Soldiers of the Old Ironsides Division began replacing the 3d ID in Baghdad on 19 May 2003, completing the process on 5 June 2003.5

It was unclear what role American forces were to play in Iraq once Saddam’s regime had been removed from power. At CFLCC, the assumption, based on guidance from CENTCOM and higher authorities, was that Coalition troops would not become involved in major law enforcement operations across Iraq. Major General Webster remembered fielding queries from Iraqi leaders about the possibilities of the Coalition declaring martial law and recalled McKiernan responding, “The President and the Secretary of Defense have said that we will not declare martial law. We are not going to put our military in a position of enforcing Iraqi laws.”6 At the tactical level, unit commanders were unsure about their role in maintaining law and order. Major General David Petraeus, commanding the 101st ABN, thought initial guidance on operations after regime removal lacked specific details on tasks and purpose.7 Leaders in the 3d ID, which was busy conducting operations in Baghdad, were also unsure of their missions, not entirely convinced that imposing law and order in Baghdad was their responsibility. It is important to note that even if CENTCOM or CFLCC had formally tasked the 3d ID, the 101st ABN, or any other subordinate units with this mission—those units had very limited capability to carry out comprehensive law enforcement operations across Iraq. There simply were not enough American troops in Baghdad, a city of 5.5 million people, after 9 April 2003 to impose order. The troops who did find themselves in Baghdad lacked the resources and preparation necessary for any formal organized response to the breakdown of order or for more ambitious operations designed to begin reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and governance. In April and May 2003 American Soldiers did what they could, arriving at their own solutions to the most obvious and demanding problems. However, neither a consistent approach nor an overarching policy emerged in those very early days.

During his first visit to Baghdad in mid-April, Franks gave his commanders guidance that made the difficult transition to Phase IV even more challenging. He told his commanders to “be prepared to take as much risk departing as they had in their push to Baghdad.”8 Later that same day, a video teleconference (VTC) with the President and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reinforced Franks’ directive for a quick redeployment. This guidance had a major impact during this critical period, and came as a surprise to McKiernan and his chief of staff, Marine Major General Robert Blackman.9

The staffs at CENTCOM Forward command post (CP) and CFLCC immediately began planning for their redeployments back to the United States and for the rapid drawdown of US forces in Iraq. The 3d ID and the 1st MEF were ordered to begin their movement out of theater. At this point in the campaign, CENTCOM anticipated reducing Coalition forces rapidly from 140,000 to around 30,000 by September, less than 7 months away. V Corps and 1st AD issued similar orders in mid-April.10

During the last week of April, the DOD canceled the deployment of the 1st Cavalry Division (1st CAV) to Iraq. The 1st CAV was one of the two Army divisions called for in the CFLCC plan to deploy to Iraq following the start of Phase III. This decision followed a series of queries from Rumsfeld to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CENTCOM commander about limiting the flow of follow-on forces into Iraq if Saddam’s military quickly collapsed.11 Franks has taken responsibility for the decision:

Rumsfeld presented [the cancellation of the 1st CAV] to me as an idea. I initially said, ‘No. We need to continue to flow the 1st CAV Division.’ His response to that was, ‘Maybe so, general, tell me why?’ I talked to Dick Myers, the Chairman, Pete Pace, the Vice Chairman, and my own people, and over the course of a few days to a week I convinced myself. Rumsfeld didn’t convince me, Rumsfeld didn’t brow beat me, . . . the right thing to do was to terminate the flow with the idea that if we were not able to bring a sense of stability in there then we will turn the flow on again.12

Despite Franks’ confidence at the time, he suggested in a 2006 interview that he has reconsidered this critical decision, “Had I to do it again, based on the fact that I’m a lifelong learner, I would have said, ‘By comparison, Mr. President, by comparison, Mr. Secretary, keep it flowing, put the 1st CAV in and then we will adjust and decide.’”14 General John Keane, the acting Chief of Staff of the Army, supported the decision to stop the deployment of the 1st CAV. His explanation illustrated the general assumptions among senior military and civilian leaders about the security situation in post-Saddam Iraq: “I thought Iraq was going to be Bosnia on steroids and that we were going to be there, I told Rumsfeld, 8 to 10 years minimum with some measure of force. So I was immediately concerned about rotations and I didn’t want the 1st CAV to deploy.”14 Keane noted that he did not anticipate the emergence of an armed opposition in Iraq, “I think if we thought that an insurgency was a realistic option and we had [the 1st CAV] in the queue, we probably would have deployed the 1st CAV.”15

In his memoirs, Franks claims that in late April and early May, “Phase IV was going about as I had expected—not as I had hoped—but as I expected.”16 The decision to cancel the 1st CAV’s deployment was consistent with his thinking about the entire campaign, especially the imperatives of keeping troop levels low, the idea of the “running start” to the ground war, and the idea of adjusting forces in Phase IV based on the Iraqi reaction to the fall of Saddam. That thinking implied an analysis of various courses of action. The decision to maintain, increase, or decrease the force flow would have to be made once the regime was toppled and Coalition troops took stock of what they found.17 It is a stretch to think that a precise assessment of the nature of post-Saddam Iraq was possible in late April 2003, with the Baathist dictator still on the run and much of the country still unoccupied. During this critical transition period, however, it is questionable whether leaders at the DOD, CENTCOM, and CFLCC conducted a thorough, coordinated, and realistic evaluation of the probable force levels required for Phase IV based on the realities of the new Iraq that were emerging in front of them.

Chapter 4. Leading the New Campaign: Transitions in Command and Control in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM

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