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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

 

From CENTCOM and CFLCC to V Corps and CJTF-7

In late April 2003, Major General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the 1st AD, which was still deploying its troops from Germany to Kuwait, found that the Army had nominated him for his third star and planned for him to replace Wallace as commander of V Corps. By 1 May he was in Baghdad with the V Corps headquarters preparing for the transition, while the remainder of his division was debarking in Kuwait.24 At that time CFLCC, however, was still designated as the headquarters for the next phase of OIF. The two chief US political and military entities in Iraq were the ORHA under Lieutenant General (Retired) Jay Garner and the CFLCC under Lieutenant General McKiernan. The Combined Joint Task Force–IV (CJTF-IV) headquarters, which had arrived in Kuwait in early March, had by this time become an abortive undertaking that CENTCOM appears to have never seriously considered as a viable option for leading Phase IV of OIF.

Prior to May 2003 nearly everyone in the senior levels of the military and civilian chains of command expected military operations in Phase IV to be very short-lived, a belief derived from assumptions made at the very earliest stages of planning for OIF.25 The initial campaign plan developed by the staff of the 1st AD, for example, envisioned a short period of combat operations to destroy remnants of the regime, followed by a turnover of authority to an Iraqi Government and its security forces, and then redeployment back to Germany by December 2003.26 Soon, however, reality rendered prewar assumptions and the mid-April euphoria obsolete. Indeed, the 1st AD would not redeploy home to Germany until July 2004, after a period of intense combat operations in the spring against the Shia forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, actions that extended the division’s tour of duty beyond one year.

The belief in a curtailed Phase IV led General Franks to direct Lieutenant General McKiernan and CFLCC to leave Iraq. After his retirement, Franks stated that the reason he rapidly redeployed CFLCC out of theater was to use the move as a lever with the Armed Services and the DOD to get leaders in those organizations to rapidly insert a combined joint headquarters into Iraq to work alongside ORHA and later with the CPA. In a 2006 interview, Franks explained his thinking:

I look at military services, the Army included, as force providers. I look at Washington, DC, as a force provider. I thought it was sufficient to tell Don Rumsfeld and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Dick Myers, ‘Here is what we are going to do in Iraq. Here is what we need in Iraq. We need a joint headquarters, a CJTF. You [guys] figure it out. I don’t care whether the Army convinces you to bring a headquarters out of Europe or whether the Air Force convinces you to bring a headquarters from Shaw Air Force Base.’ . . . So that is a task that [CENTCOM Commander] John Abizaid and I very simply laid on Washington and said, ‘Figure it out. Do it fast. Get me a joint headquarters in here. We have a lot of work to do and [CPA Administrator] Jerry Bremer has a lot of responsibility and he needs help.’27

As Major General Steve Whitcomb, the CENTCOM chief of staff, recalled, Franks and others were interested in lowering the size of the military footprint in Iraq in line with the prewar planning for a very brief period of military operations after toppling Saddam Hussein.28 The CFLCC staff, as well as parts of the CENTCOM staff, had been deployed to Qatar and other places in the Persian Gulf region since late 2001 when Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) began in Afghanistan. They had planned and conducted two major and very successful military campaigns in that time. It was not totally unreasonable to believe that a new headquarters was needed to direct long-term operations in Iraq. However, the attempt at leverage did not work as General Franks had anticipated.

General Franks ultimately decided to make V Corps the senior headquarters in Iraq. The decision to replace CFLCC with V Corps surprised the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, because it seemed to contradict assumptions about which headquarters would lead Phase III and Phase IV of OIF. General Keane remembers,

I was directly involved in making certain that [CFLCC Commander] Lieutenant General McKiernan, at the behest of the Chief of Staff of the Army [General Erik Shinseki], got absolutely the best possible team that we could put together for him for this invasion. When it came to that same headquarters taking the fight to Iraq, we decided to put together the absolutely hands-down best team we could. Franks and his guys called them the ‘Dream Team.’29

Keane and the Army leadership chose to do this because they envisioned that CFLCC would direct Phase IV of OIF, not just Phase III.

Keane was therefore surprised and upset when he was told about Franks’ decision to turn over Phase IV to V Corps during the daily Pentagon briefing sometime in mid-May 2003. His reaction that day etched strong memories:

The brief had talked about the CFLCC headquarters moving to Kuwait. Well, I got a hold of the G3 who was [Lieutenant General Richard A.] Cody and I said, ‘What the [hell], over? What is going on here? Why are these guys going south?’ He said, ‘Sir, I don’t know. That’s the plan.’ I said, ‘Well, who the hell is going to be running Phase IV?’ He said, ‘Well, the plan is to keep the corps headquarters.’ So I said, ‘Let me get this right. We are going to take the last arriving division commander, who just got here a couple weeks ago, and we are going to put him in charge of the war in Iraq. That is what we are going to do?’ . . . so I got Abizaid on the phone and I said, ‘What the [hell], over?’ He said, ‘Sir, this was hashed out by McKiernan and Franks. . . . Franks thinks this is okay so we are going to turn this over to Sanchez.’30

Keane explained that the decision made little sense to him: “I flipped. I said, ‘Jesus Christ, John, this is a recipe for disaster. We invested in that headquarters. We have the experience and judgment in that headquarters [CFLCC].’ So I had a lot of concern about it and I was upset about it to say the least, but the decision had been made and it was a done deal.”31 For Keane, the passage of time has not made him less critical of the decision to replace CFLCC with V Corps. In a 2006 interview, he stated:

I still remain very disappointed by it because I think we did not put the best experienced headquarters that we had in charge of that operation. That operation, in terms of dealing with Phase IV, with an insurgency, was going to be one of the most challenging things the Army had ever taken on and we just needed absolutely the very best people involved in it. It took us months, 6 or 7 or 8 months, to get some semblance of a headquarters together so Sanchez could at least begin to function effectively.32

Keane was not the only senior experienced official to view the decision in this light. In Baghdad, Jay Garner, the ORHA chief, had a similar reaction:

I tell you what, I thought that the [CFLCC] staff he had was probably the best staff I had ever seen in my life. You had [CFLCC Chief of Intelligence US Army Brigadier General James] ‘Spider’ Marks, [CFLCC Deputy Commander US Army Major General William] ‘Fuzzy’ Webster, and [CFLCC Chief of Operations US Army Major General James D.] Jay Thurman. Those guys were magnificent and they could make anything happen. . . . they had a ton of talented colonels and lieutenant colonels working for them and they had been working this problem for a year and a half.33

Garner questioned the wisdom of replacing CFLCC with a headquarters that had a dearth of senior officers and far less experience in the region: “All of sudden, overnight, you pick them up and move them out of there and you stick the V Corps staff in there, where many of their principals were lieutenant colonels and in some cases colonels, not many, with Sanchez as the [commanding general].” The decision created a wide gap, in Garner’s opinion, between the staggering scope of the American project in Iraq and the assets chosen to implement that project. He stated, “We took the junior three-star in DOD and put him in charge of the greatest problem in the nation.”34

V Corps was an odd choice to assume the duties of the postconflict military headquarters. Prior to the invasion, the command had focused solely on the tactical level of war and did almost no planning or training to prepare itself to become the senior military headquarters in Iraq.35 As Lieutenant General Wallace stated in 2006, “I don’t recall ever being given the indication that V Corps would assume the [joint task force] mission until after we crossed the line of departure [the Kuwait-Iraq border].”36 It was not until late April, as Wallace was planning to move his headquarters north to Tikrit to locate it where he thought would be the center of V Corps’ geographic area of responsibility in Iraq for Phase IV, did he begin to get word of the new mission. In response to the new guidance, Wallace established the V Corps main command post (CP) at Camp Victory near the Baghdad International Airport, and ordered his Deputy, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, to move the Corps logistical assets and rear CP to the new base (Logistics Support Area [LSA] Anaconda) at Balad, Iraq.37

Soon after the decision was made to replace CFLCC with V Corps, the role of personalities appears to have affected decisions about who would command in Iraq. Sometime in early May, the CENTCOM commander and the Defense Secretary decided to replace Wallace as commander of V Corps with Major General Sanchez (still in command of 1st AD and at the time arriving in Iraq), and Lieutenant General McKiernan told Wallace that General Franks wanted both Wallace and McKiernan out of theater in as little as 10 days. Wallace was not given the reasoning behind either of these decisions, though he delayed his departure until 14 June 2003 to conduct a transition with Sanchez.38 After the meeting in which these decisions were made, the CFLCC deputy, Major General Webster, asked McKiernan why CFLCC was being pulled out and Wallace was being replaced at V Corps. McKiernan replied only that he and Wallace “were not in favor of the change.”39 As Webster stated in early 2007, “It just seemed a crazy decision to make while the fight was still on, to change horses in mid-stream. I was looking around at my fellow generals as staff officers there and we were kind of saying to each other, ‘Well, they must know something we don’t know.’”40 Despite the urgency felt at the senior levels of DOD about the need to alter the Coalition military leadership, the changes in commanders and command structure would significantly complicate what was already a difficult transition for US forces in Iraq.

Around 17 May 2003 Sanchez was officially notified that the V Corps headquarters would transform itself into CJTF-7 and serve as the Coalition’s senior military command in Iraq. The change was scheduled to take effect on 15 June 2003. Sanchez did not believe the extraordinarily complex transition was done with the care and planning that it deserved, contending, “There was not a single session that was held at the command level [in April or May] to handoff or transition anything from the CFLCC to the Corps.”41 In his words, the CFLCC staff had already begun its movement out of theater in a “mad dash home.”42 With typical Soldier irreverence, some on the V Corps planning staff dubbed CFLCC’s redeployment plans “Operation Shag Ass.”43

This judgment may be too harsh. V Corps planners had begun to get indicators of the impending transition in late April when Major General Sanchez was still the 1st AD commander, and they participated in a coordination session with the CFLCC staff planners on 14 May. Between 6 and 10 June 2003, the CFLCC staff visited the V Corps staff at Camp Victory to exchange staff products, to finalize the table of distribution and allowances (TDAs), and other issues relating to the transfer of authority (TOA).44 Major General Webster and Brigadier General Daniel A. Hahn, the V Corps chief of staff, met several times during this period to plan the transition.45 The rapid TOA and the level of coordination, however, reflected the general mood in Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion’s success. As Major General Wojdakowski noted, “They [CFLCC] still had a big function back in Kuwait, so it was not a real clean, comprehensive transfer, and I think the primary reason was that most everybody thought the war was over.”46 Wojdakowski himself claimed to have fallen victim to this optimistic view of the situation in Iraq, stating, “I am not chastising anybody for that because I will tell you personally that I thought it was more or less over myself.”47

As CENTCOM Forward CP, CFLCC, and the 1st MEF began their redeployments home, V Corps was left as the only ground force headquarters in theater above division level. Franks’ gambit to have the DOD bring in a new headquarters to serve as the CJTF in Iraq did not succeed. Perhaps worse was that the transition process did little to prepare the new commander and his staff for their role as a CJTF with responsibility for operations across the theater-strategic, operational, and tactical spectrum of warfare in Iraq. Not until mid-September 2003 did the CENTCOM CJ3 send a staff element back to Qatar and Baghdad to work with CJTF-7 and the CPA in shaping the new campaign.48

V Corps, a European-based headquarters with a purely tactical mission during the invasion of Iraq and on the verge of gaining a new commander, would now have to develop the staff, knowledge, and experience to take over for CFLCC, an organization whose focus since 1990 had been Iraq. To further complicate this transition, on 13 May 2003 the CPA replaced the ORHA. In preparation for the new mission and the requirement to work at the theater-strategic level, Lieutenant General Wallace located the V Corps Tactical CP inside the Green Zone with the CPA headquarters and kept the main CP outside the city at Camp Victory to conduct tactical and operational missions.49

It was clear to McKiernan, Wallace, and Sanchez in mid-May that combat operations were not over. Law and order in Baghdad were tenuous. By early May 2003, for example, Major General Buford Blount, the 3d ID commander, reported to the CFLCC deputy commander that he did not even have enough troops to guard the specific installations that he had been directed to protect from looters.50 Sporadic attacks on US troops increased daily. While the 3d ID consolidated its hold on Baghdad, the 101st ABN was just moving into Nineveh province in northern Iraq where previously only a small Marine force had been operating with small units from US Special Operations Forces (SOF). Additionally, the 173d Airborne Brigade held a small area of northern Iraq after parachuting into the country near the town of Irbil. The 2d Brigade of the 82d ABN and the 3d ACR were moving west from Baghdad into the heart of Sunni territory. To the north of Baghdad around the city of Tikrit, the 4th ID had replaced the Marines of 1st MEF and was finding former Baathist forces that had not been defeated or captured during the invasion.

The rapidly changing command structure in May 2003 created confusion about which phase of the OIF campaign plan Coalition forces were conducting. Much more than a semantic difference, this issue had significant affects at all levels. The phase of the operation influenced the task organization, the type of missions the US forces would conduct, and the rules of engagement (ROEs) under which US forces would operate. It appeared that CENTCOM had declared an end to Phase III after General Franks’ 16 April 2003 visit to Baghdad, though Franks himself is not sure if an order was issued to that effect.51 The President’s “mission accomplished” speech on 1 May 2003 contributed to the perception of transition.

Meanwhile, V Corps continued to execute its operations under the orders issued at the start of Phase III. When 4th ID arrived to replace the redeploying Marines of 1st MEF in the area around Tikrit, they took an aggressive posture in the heavily Sunni region to destroy what were then being called “dead enders” and former regime elements (FRE). In fact, before 16 June 2003 Lieutenant General Wallace never issued an order formally transitioning V Corps to Phase IV operations, though the Corps mission did change. The new mission statement, issued in mid-May, directed the Corps’ subordinate units to conduct offensive operations and “stability operations that support the establishment of local government and economic development” concurrently.52 This statement signaled V Corps’ recognition that full spectrum operations in Phase IV in Iraq might become far more complex than the transition phases of previous campaigns.

As CENTCOM and CFLCC started moving out of Iraq, Sanchez began communicating directly with Franks’ replacement, Lieutenant General John Abizaid, then serving as the deputy commander of CENTCOM and designated to take the reins of that command in early July 2003. As the date for the CENTCOM and V Corps changes of command drew near, both men had concerns about the security situation in Iraq. After a meeting in Baghdad in late June, Sanchez recalled,

We both knew, even by that point, that we had a couple of major issues. We had an issue with the sourcing for the V Corps/CJTF-7 staff and we had an issue with the operational environment that was unfolding. The war was not over. It wasn’t as benign an operating environment as everybody thought. We were continuing to have attacks, even though at a low rate, but we recognized very early on, by the first couple of weeks of July 2003, that we were in a continuation of Phase III [of OPLAN COBRA II]. We were still fighting and all indications were that we probably had an insurgency on our hands. We weren’t quite sure at this point. We figured it was elements of Saddam’s regime but we did not know yet exactly what this thing looked like.53

Sanchez’s understanding of the postinvasion situation articulated the widening realization that there would be no clean break between Phase III and Phase IV and that Army units would have to conduct combat and stability and support operations simultaneously.

In July Abizaid made his concerns about the security environment crystal clear. In his first Pentagon press conference as the new CENTCOM commander on 16 July 2003, Abizaid stated his belief that the US faced “a classical guerrilla type campaign” in Iraq.54 He had been in command of CENTCOM only 8 days and one of his first official statements appeared to run counter to public comments from Secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and some commanders on the ground.55 Abizaid’s statement was a sobering recognition that turning military victory into strategic success was going to be neither easy nor quick. The hopes for a peaceful turnover of power to a new Iraqi Government followed by a rapid withdrawal of US forces had essentially disappeared.*


*As discussed in chapter 3, the authors of this book are using the term “insurgency” to refer to the broad mix of groups that used violence to oppose the Coalition powers and the evolving Iraqi governing bodies in 2003 and 2004. The opposition included former regime elements, al-Qaeda terrorists, regional terrorists, sectarian militias, criminal enterprises, and others.


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





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