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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


CJTF-7 and the Planning of the New Campaign

In the 18-month period covered by this study, three different Coalition military commands developed and used four separate campaign plans to direct the military effort in Iraq. These four plans existed at the operational and theater-strategic levels of war and did not include the tactical-level plans generated by brigades and divisions, which were part of the Coalition command in Iraq. The campaign plan was the single most important document used by the US Army to provide direction and to set objectives for its units to accomplish. Its overarching purpose is to turn military actions into favorable strategic outcomes for the United States. The timing, purpose, and general content of these plans are integral to understanding the overall approach and effectiveness of the Coalition effort in Iraq. This section will briefly describe the first two plans and focus on the third plan created by CJTF-7 in the summer of 2003. A subsequent section will cover the fourth plan issued by Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I) in August 2004.

COBRA II was the first of these campaign plans. Written before the war by CFLCC, COBRA II guided the conventional operations that toppled the Saddam regime in March and April 2003. The ECLIPSE II plan, also written by CFLCC but published only after the war began, served as the blueprint for operations in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Its life span, however, was very short because of CFLCC’s transfer of responsibilities to CJTF-7 in mid-June 2003. Moreover, CFLCC planners had made important assumptions about the amount of stability in post-Saddam Iraq. As stability and security decreased in the spring and early summer, the conditions on the ground made ECLIPSE II essentially irrelevant. (Chapter 2 discusses these plans in greater detail.)

CJTF-7 created the third plan, releasing it in draft form in August 2003. That plan, which remained nameless, served as the overarching guidance for Coalition military operations until January 2004 while being constantly modified as the political and military situation in Iraq fluctuated. That this plan remained a work in progress throughout the summer and fall of 2003 has led to the erroneous conclusion that CJTF-7 failed to have a campaign plan in 2003. In fact, the CJTF-7 CJ5 Plans section began work on documents that articulated guidance and vision for the Coalition military campaign just days after the JTF headquarters was created on 15 June 2003.116

Though the CJTF-7 commander and his planners had not inherited a fully developed plan for the postconflict phase of OIF from CFLCC or from CENTCOM, and while CPA certainly lacked any kind of comprehensive plan at this stage in its development, the CJTF-7 staff was not planning in a vacuum. Even before the decision to make V Corps the lead military headquarters in Iraq, Corps planners worked to ensure their operations were nested within the existing CENTCOM, CFLCC, and CJTF-Iraq (as CJTF-7 was then called) briefings. CENTCOM’s planning envisioned seven logical lines of operation in their Phase IV planning: unity of effort, security, rule of law, civil administration, relief and resettlement, governance, and economic development. By late June the CPA had developed five lines of operations with the assistance of CJTF-7 planners: security, essential services, governance, economy, and strategic communications. General Abizaid would add more guidance to the planning efforts after he took over CENTCOM in July 2003, introducing what he called the “Five I’s” to guide US military operations: Iraqization, improvement of intelligence, development of infrastructure, internationalization, and information operations. Abizaid believed these five priorities were critical to success, stating, “If we can dominate those five I’s, we can win the campaign.”117 From this pool of documents, briefings, and concepts, CJTF-7 began its own planning effort.

Working with planners from the divisions and other subordinate Coalition commands, the CJTF-7 CJ5 staff completed a working draft plan and a set of briefing slides that described the direction and goals for the military effort in Iraq. The role of this draft plan has been somewhat misunderstood, primarily because it continued to evolve in reaction to the changing political and military conditions in Iraq between August 2003 and January 2004 when it was finally published as a complete operation order (OPORD). Another complicating factor was that the Coalition was conducting operations while the plan was being developed, which required commanders to act on drafts and briefings as well as on verbal and written fragmentary orders. Additionally, while it completed the draft plan in the summer of 2003, the CJTF-7 staff still had to coordinate with and seek approval for the plan from the CPA, CENTCOM, DOD, and other parts of the US Government.

In setting down the basic foundation of the plan, the CJTF-7 staff faced significant difficulties. To what degree, for example, would they rely on COBRA II and ECLIPSE II? In the minds of the plans officers in CJTF-7, a wholly new campaign plan was needed in the summer of 2003, one that essentially served as a replacement for CFLCC’s ECLIPSE II plan for Phase IV of OIF which no longer matched reality on the ground.118 Between June 2003 and January 2004, however, Lieutenant General Sanchez, the CJTF-7 commander, chose to employ aspects of the original CFLCC COBRA II plan. This decision stemmed from the fact that in the summer of 2003, Coalition leaders understood the Iraqi insurgency as primarily composed of former regime elements loyal to Saddam. In Sanchez’s view, the Saddam regime was not yet fully dismantled and the security situation on the ground too tenuous for a transition from COBRA II’s emphasis on offensive operations (Phase III) to a new phase that focused on stability and support tasks (Phase IV). For this reason, he frequently stated that the Coalition remained in Phase III throughout 2003. To Sanchez, it appeared logical to modify that plan to support emerging CPA and US Government decisions. As he later explained, “The mission statement for us at this point in time is that we know we have to continue to conduct offensive operations across the country in order to be able to defeat these noncomplying [former regime element] forces that are out there.”119 He also wanted to send the message inside and outside of CJTF-7 that combat was not over, that the Saddam regime had not been entirely eliminated, and that OIF was not yet transitioning to the kind of stability and support operations that were employed in the Balkans and that would allow for the rapid drawdown of US and Coalition forces in Iraq. In fact, General Abizaid and Lieutenant General Sanchez were working feverishly in the summer of 2003 to reverse those redeployments already underway, and to plan for the extended occupation of Iraq.120

Throughout 2003, the CJTF-7 staff thus categorized their OPORDs and fragmentary orders as extensions of the Phase III of the original COBRA II plan. While Sanchez emphasized the offensive aspect of CJTF-7’s effort, his planners continued to develop the new plan and, while that plan retained its status as a draft, it served as important guidance for division planning and operations. The CJTF-7 Plans section continued to update and issue briefing packets to subordinate commands as the situation on the ground changed and as US strategy for Iraq evolved.121

Despite the volatile conditions, some critical elements of the plan remained unchanged throughout 2003. CJTF-7 directed its forces to act along four lines of operations: security, essential services, governance, and economy—essentially the same as those used by the CPA. CJTF-7 integrated a fifth line of operation, information operations, into the other four lines of operation. The new plan contained four phases—Phase III, Offense; Phase IVa, Stability; Phase IVb, Support; and Phase IVc, Deterrence—each with its own triggers, objectives, and military and political end states, and all centered on the idea that the Coalition would reduce levels of military forces and operations as the campaign progressed.122 Though offensive combat operations were dominant in Phase III of the plan, this phase also included stability and support operations that were to be carried out simultaneously by Coalition forces. The same mix of operations would also characterize the phases that followed. The plan’s mission statement captured this important concept:

Conduct offensive operations to defeat remaining noncompliant forces and neutralize destabilizing influences in the AO in order to create a secure environment in direct support of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Concurrently conduct stability operations to support the establishment of government and economic development in order to set the conditions for a transfer of operations to designated follow-on military or civilian authorities.123 The mission statement, with its simultaneous emphasis on combat and stability operations, expressed CJTF-7’s understanding that the military effort in Iraq required full spectrum operations.

Equally important was the plan’s identification of the Iraqi people as the center of gravity for the campaign. To be successful, CJTF-7 planners believed Coalition forces had to enable the CPA to gain and retain the popular support of the Iraqi people for the Coalition’s efforts to create a new Iraqi Government.

The new CJTF-7 campaign plan provided its units with broad guidance within which they were to conduct a combination of offensive, defensive, stability, and support operations suited to their particular region of Iraq. In this way, the plan empowered commanders at the tactical level to tailor operations as they saw fit. As Major General Miller, the CJTF-7 chief of operations (CJ3), noted:

The campaign plan provided what I would call a very broad framework [lines of operation] and little specific direction—or specific when warranted. It was descriptive not prescriptive—and rightfully so. In some cases though—it was Braille warfare to put it bluntly. . . . You just sorted some things out on the fly—and that is OK—you adapt. . . . So the whole nature of this operation was decentralized and driven by the campaign plan.124

It must be recalled that as this plan was being developed, the enemy situation in Iraq was changing as other religious, sectarian, and international terrorist forces joined the resistance to the Coalition, and as the Iraqi and international political situation evolved.

By September 2003, barely a month after the first draft was completed, it was becoming evident to Coalition military leaders that security was not soon going to be established, that the resistance consisted of more than former Saddam loyalists, and that Phase IV would take much longer to reach. This reality forced further revisions to the plan, delaying its publication as a fully-fledged operation order (OPORD), though it continued to serve as general guidance for CJTF-7’s subordinate units. In what Lieutenant General Sanchez later described as a “tectonic plate shift,” the decision made by the Bush administration and Bremer to hand over power to an IIG in June 2004, well before popular elections could be held and far earlier than originally envisioned by Bremer, forced the CJTF-7 staff to make further revisions to the plan.125

The resolution to hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi Government did not mesh with the conditions-based timelines in existing CPA and CJTF-7 plans, both of which envisioned the Coalition implementing major political changes only after sufficient security had been established
in Iraq. This decision drove CJTF-7 to continue its focus on offensive combat operations while at the same time the CPA prepared for and conducted the transition to Iraqi sovereignty, making the mission even more complex. In January 2004 Sanchez issued the final version of CJTF-7’s campaign plan as a fully constituted and finalized OPORD.126 This OPORD remained in effect until the staff of MNF-I published a new plan in August 2004, after new political and military realities forced the Coalition to reconsider how its military operations should support a newly sovereign Iraqi Government. In explaining how he viewed the campaign in 2003 and 2004, Sanchez contended that throughout his tenure in command in Iraq, his forces remained in Phase III of first the COBRA II and later the CJTF-7 campaign plan, conducting full spectrum operations focused on establishing a sufficient amount of security so the campaign could fully transition to Phase IV.127

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

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