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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


Boots on the Ground in Iraq: The Coalition Military Command and the Issue of Troop Strength

In the summer of 2003, the DOD faced the issue of determining whether there would be a requirement for a second rotation of US forces in Iraq, an “OIF II” as it would later be called. CENTCOM and CJTF-7 planners immediately had to determine how long forces would remain in theater. Given the uncertain security environment that was developing that summer, the first decision was to stop the hemorrhaging of units leaving Iraq. In a series of meetings in late June, Sanchez and Abizaid decided to halt the flow of forces out of Iraq.132 The new policy stated that units did not leave until their replacements were in place. Therefore, he and Abizaid succeeded in halting the redeployment of the 3d ID and having the 82d ABN headquarters, one of its maneuver brigades, its aviation brigade, and other organic supporting units deploy to Iraq to increase troop strength on a temporary basis. Both of those decisions caused significant difficulties for the Army. This was to be a stopgap measure until CJTF-7 had time to develop a comprehensive plan for the forces that would be needed for OIF II.133 Abizaid announced this new stance after he assumed command of CENTCOM on 8 July 2003.

Later that month, the Army announced its “one year boots on the ground” policy in recognition of the long-term nature of the mission.134 This major policy announcement required units and Soldiers to spend 1 year in Iraq itself, plus whatever time it took to train and deploy into and out of the country. A 1-year rotation would give units and Soldiers time to develop situational awareness, experience, and connections with Iraqis—all critical to operations in the new campaign in Iraq. After the yearlong deployment of the Implementation Force (IFOR) to Bosnia in December 1995, the Army had used a 6-month rotation policy for units and for individual personnel for its deployments. This decision to create an OIF II rotation based on 1-year rotations put tremendous pressure on the Army as an institution, on the Reserve Components in particular, and on commanders and Soldiers personally.

OIF II did help CJTF-7 plan for troop levels in the future. But in considering the situation in mid-2003, Coalition leaders could not expect to gain any significant increase in troop strength. Still, Lieutenant General Sanchez believed he had sufficient forces to accomplish the military missions charged to CJTF-7 at that time:

Given what we knew in that period, during the June, July, and August timeframe, the missions that we were assigned, the missions that were evolving during that timeframe and expanding or threatening to expand, and the uncertainty of the operational environment, I thought we had sufficient forces to do what we had to do, but then very quickly we got to the point where we had to start making tradeoffs.135

Political and military developments in Iraq clearly forced Sanchez to compromise and shift efforts from event to event. CJTF-7, for example, had no operational reserve force in 2003 and 2004. If a situation developed that required more troops in a certain area or for a certain operation, forces had to be shifted away from another part of Iraq. Wojdakowski, the CJTF-7 deputy commander, echoed his commander’s comments about shifting forces around to deal with changing requirements:

What we did was we shifted other forces around and used the forces like any prudent commander would and took risk in the areas where we needed to take risk. Face it, you never have a perfect solution, but you get paid to shift forces around, you get paid to decide where you are going to take risk and where you are going to put your effort, and we did those things and I guess history will determine whether we took the right risks or not.136

In mid-summer 2003, Coalition military leaders grew concerned about the size of their formations, the type of units required for the new campaign, and the missions they had to perform. As Wojdakowski stated in 2006:

As a corps, we certainly had enough force to take down the regime and we had enough forces at corps to execute what our Phase IV plan was if we had executed it. We ended up not doing that because we took on the mission of the entire country. It became pretty obvious to General Sanchez and me by about 1 July 2003 that we would need at least as much force, maybe more than we had, in order to continue operations without beginning to get behind on countering this insurgency, and we started making that known.137

Given the Army’s total force structure in the Active and Reserve Components, there was considerable tension within the US Army concerning the need to keep force levels at a sustainable rate for the long term. Other pressures came from the evolving nature of the military tasks, the differing roles of the CPA and CJTF-7, and the increasing Iraqi opposition to Coalition rule and military forces.

As the summer wore on and as new security challenges developed, the CJTF-7 commander’s judgment changed. “As major events started to unfold,” Sanchez stated, “it was very clear that additional forces would be required, but at all levels of command it was acknowledged that there were no additional forces available. The existing forces were either deployed and [in Iraq], just recently redeployed such as the 3d ID and a couple of other units, or they were already scheduled for deployment as part of OIF II.”138 The CJTF-7 commander and his deputy knew the Army did not have the force structure to indefinitely maintain its peak strength of the equivalent of six divisions in the country. In response, the top military decisionmakers began the practice of delaying some unit redeployments out of Iraq during rotation windows to temporarily generate greater troop capacity. Wojdakowski noted another example of the issues posed by overall troop levels, this one dealing with the composition of specific capabilities in Iraq:

I mean, we had about three-fourths of the MPs in the Army in the country and we were told they were all going to leave and we knew that we needed three-fourths of the Army’s MPs to replace the three-fourths we already had, . . . . So we knew we had some force structure issues and we told the Army that and they began training artillerymen to be MPs. They started converting artillery batteries to do infantry tasks.139

He added, “So it was a huge challenge just replacing what we had for OIF I with the right force for OIF II.”140

As noted earlier, Sanchez found himself compelled to take risks with his forces. Many US units in mid-summer 2003 were beginning to deal with the mounting insurgency that threatened the fundamental objectives of postconflict operations. However, the CPA and CJTF-7 recognized that new tasks, such as securing borders, securing and destroying the massive number of ammunition dumps around Iraq, and guarding key Iraqi infrastructure, were emerging at the same time. US units diverted resources to meet these requirements. Sanchez described the situation:

You begin to very rapidly accept risk and make tradeoffs. From my perspective as the ground commander, what I was doing was to identify what forces were necessary to accomplish the mission . . . and the strategic, operational and tactical risks associated with the diversion of forces [to the emerging tasks], should that be required. I would provide that assessment to higher headquarters stating that I’d be glad to accomplish the mission with assigned forces, if ordered. This meant that the decisionmaker would have to accept the risks identified in our assessment.141

Clearly by the fall of 2003, the demands of the worsening security situation, as well as those of the other lines of operation, forced CJTF-7 leaders and units to prioritize their tasks and take significant risks.

Other factors contributed to the formal position held by Sanchez on the force-level issue. First, it was the CPA, not CJTF-7, that maintained the responsibility for standing up the ISF in 2003 and early 2004. This program was consistent with the belief that the Iraqis themselves had responsibility in the security situation. Any great influx of US troops had the potential to decrease the Iraqis’ sense of urgency to accept responsibility for security tasks. Second, the United States was attempting to secure more troops from the “Coalition of the willing,” an effort that might have been undermined by sending more US troops to Iraq. It is also reasonable to have believed in the summer of 2003 that a significantly greater Coalition and US troop presence would alienate Iraqis who had remained neutral up to that point. Sanchez maintained a delicate balance between all these competing interests during his tenure as the commander. The evolving situation in Iraq required CJTF-7 to conduct an expanding set of missions that overwhelmed the manpower assets available to the Coalition headquarters. As other commanders have done in other conflicts, the CJTF-7 commander continued to execute the mission while pushing for more Coalition forces and pushing the CPA to more rapidly build the new ISF.

Critical to the understanding of the troop strength issue is that, as the senior US official in Iraq, the CPA Chief had the final say over US policy in Iraq. Bremer at times expressed displeasure to Coalition military leaders about the inadequate security situation and its relation to troop levels. Those concerns, however, did not persuade him to significantly change the CPA-led programs to train new Iraqi police and military forces or to agree that Iraqi military forces should have a role in internal security matters. Ultimately, neither Sanchez nor Bremer had the final word on troop levels. That authority rested inside the Pentagon. Bremer remembered that the al-Sadr uprising and Sunni attacks of April 2004 conclusively demonstrated to him that Coalition troops were stretched too thin and that led him to send a written request for one or two more divisions—25,000 to 45,000 troops—to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.142 The CPA chief confirmed that in mid-May 2004 Rumsfeld received the request and that the Secretary of Defense passed it on to the Service Chiefs. According to Bremer, he never received an official response to his request.143

Closely related to the issue of force size was the matter of force structure and equipment. Sanchez and his commanders spent a great deal of time trying to determine the right mix of units and equipment. It quickly became apparent that US Soldiers could not perform all of the missions required by the new campaign with the Abrams tanks, the Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs), and the other heavy equipment that had been decisive in swiftly defeating the Saddam regime. American units needed a greater number of wheeled vehicles and aerial platforms. In addition, as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other threats increased, the armor on those vehicles would have to be increased to protect the vehicle and to protect the Soldiers inside. CJTF-7 incrementally increased its requirements for equipment as they were identified and as enemy tactics evolved. In retrospect, Sanchez admits he was slow to communicate this to CENTCOM, and by extension, to the Army. “We made a mistake in not just putting a blanket requirement [for additional equipment] out there for the Army.”144

Given the worsening security environment in mid-2003 and the very real need to increase Iraqi forces, CJTF-7 began to get involved in the mission to train Iraqi police and paramilitary units. However, as chapter 11 of this study will show, the CPA held formal responsibility for this program and Bremer strenuously resisted attempts by CJTF-7 to assist with the training mission. Between June 2003 and early 2004 Sanchez questioned that decision, arguing that the construction of the new Iraqi military and police forces should be assigned to CJTF-7. He even channeled multiple appeals to the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council (NSC) asking for authority over the program.145 In Sanchez’s view, CPA programs were too limited and the actual rate of progress far too slow to deal with the rising security problems in Iraq. Coalition units, on the other hand, dealt with security issues on a daily basis and had, in theory, the rudimentary training and capacity to form the type of security forces needed immediately to quell the growing instability.

Technically in violation of CPA policy, but with Bremer’s reluctant acknowledgment and later his support, the CJTF-7 commander took matters into his own hands and directed his subordinate commanders to form Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) battalions. These hastily formed paramilitary units provided some much needed local and regional security assistance to Coalition forces until they were incorporated into the Iraqi Army in late 2004. Similarly, CJTF-7 supported the efforts of its subordinate units to use their MP forces to help train and mentor local police forces, in coordination with the program being run by the CPA. The ICDC and police programs clearly illustrated the disconnect between the policies of the two major US organizations in Iraq in the summer of 2003. However, that the Coalition moved ahead with the program also demonstrated the way in which the CPA and CJTF-7 often compromised to achieve some semblance of unity of effort.

The Coalition’s challenges with force levels continued after the CJTF-7 and CPA were dissolved in 2004. In the spring, summer, and fall of 2004, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, the commander of MNC-I, also believed he had sufficient forces to perform the missions assigned to him. But MNC-I lacked a reserve force, requiring Metz to accept risk in certain areas of the country when concentrating Coalition forces for an offensive operation or when reacting to enemy uprisings. In the fall of 2004, Metz requested and received two battalions of the 82d ABN from the United States. For Operation AL FAJR, the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004, MNC-I was able to employ the CENTCOM reserve, the battalion-size 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.146 As already mentioned, US planning for the elections of January 2005 included timing the rotation of forces between OIF II and OIF III so as to increase force levels during that critical period.

Beginning with the planning efforts in 2002 and the start of combat operations in early 2003, OIF has engendered a serious debate about the troop strength required for the Coalition to attain its objectives in Iraq. Partisans on one side of the issue argued that troop numbers were too low given the scope of Phase IV requirements. The other side suggests that the Coalition’s troop presence generated the very resistance that the Coalition confronted. Arguments on both sides often referred to past campaigns that featured stability operations or counterinsurgency efforts, hoping that these cases could offer accurate benchmarks for the proper troop levels required for campaigns of this type. Generating ideal troop levels from historical cases is complex and any accurate analysis depends on how the analyst calculates the size of friendly forces and the size of the host nation’s population.147

In the case of OIF, Coalition troop strength in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in May 2003 was roughly 168,500, with the US contingent numbering roughly 142,500. Total Coalition troop strength in Iraq declined to around 145,000 by December 2003 after the Army’s 3d ID and the 1st MEF left Iraq, though many Coalition nations provided additional forces in the summer and fall of 2003. Force levels in Iraq reached a low of 131,000 in January 2004, the smallest number attained between May 2003 and January 2005. Troop numbers then rose to more than 160,000 between January and May 2004 during the rotation of US forces from OIF I to OIF II and as some US forces were extended in Iraq during the outbreak in Shia and Sunni violence that spring. Over the summer of 2004, Coalition force numbers fluctuated between 150,000 and 165,000. Troop strength then rose and peaked at 184,500 troops (160,000 US) in January 2005 to coincide with the Iraqi elections and the rotation of US forces to Iraq for the OIF III deployment. As of this writing, 184,500 remains the peak Coalition troop strength employed during OIF.148

To make use of troop levels in the calculation of the ideal size of security forces for occupation or counterinsurgency campaigns, analysts often employ a “troop density ratio.” This statistic, usually expressed as the ratio of security forces per thousand inhabitants of the host nation, provides a tool for the comparison of troop levels in diverse historical cases. For example, troop density of British Army and Malaysian security forces during the Malayan Emergency (1948–60), a campaign often cited as the most effective counterinsurgency effort conducted by a 20th century Western power, reached a peak figure of 24.7 troops per 1,000 residents.149 A more recent example of troop density during the NATO occupation of Kosovo in 1999 shows peak force levels attaining a ratio of 21.1 troops per 1,000 residents. NATO employed some 15 troops per 1,000 residents during the IFOR phase of the Bosnia mission in 1995–96.150 Both missions in the Balkans attained relative success, though neither mission is complete and their outcomes are not fully known. Together, these cases support the argument that higher troop density ratios are critical to achieving strategic goals in campaigns that feature peacekeeping and other stability operations.

In contrast, US troop density during the successful Philippines counterinsurgency at the beginning of the 20th century peaked at only 9.8 soldiers per 1,000 residents. US force levels in post-World War II Japan were even lower at only 6.2 troops per 1,000 inhabitants. Troop density in occupied Germany was only slightly higher at 10.8 troops in the first year, and fell to 6.38 troops per 1,000 after only 2 years of occupation.151 Both of those occupations are considered stunningly successful. It is important to keep in mind, however, that both Japan and Germany had been devastated by 4 or more years of “total” war.

Using the figures cited above for Coalition forces in Iraq, the troop density ratio in May 2003 was 6.6 Soldiers per 1,000 Iraqi inhabitants. The ratio varied between that date and January 2005 when it reached a peak of 10.3 troops per 1,000 Iraqi inhabitants.152 Within Iraq’s provinces, however, troop density varied significantly, achieving higher densities in Baghdad and lower ones in the extreme south and in the Kurdish north. Including ISF in these calculations for this 18-month window further complicates the analysis because of concerns about accurate numbers and types of forces that qualified as operational units. Clearly, in May 2003, Iraq had no viable military or police units. Their numbers show a slow upward trend in 2004 as the CPA began building a new Iraqi police force and army, and as CJTF-7 began creating ICDC units. Multi-National Security Transition Command–Iraq (MNSTC-I), which began operations in May 2004, made a sharp reduction in the number of Iraqi police reported as “on duty” after an evaluation of their effectiveness in September 2004. Still, even after this correction, strength figures for the ISF in January 2005 show some 87,900 trained and equipped troops in the Iraqi police, National Guard, and Army. By including those forces with the number of Coalition troops in Iraq in January 2005, a new troop density ratio of 13.74 emerges.153

This analysis generally supports the argument that Coalition troop density in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 was too low, certainly in comparison to the ratios found in the Malayan and Balkan examples cited earlier. They are higher than the ratios found in postwar Germany and Japan, however, which many believed Ambassador Bremer used as a model for Iraq. What is missing from this analysis are the intangible factors unique to each historical case. Terrain and population density, population diversity and ethnic divisions, postwar physical and demographic factors, cultural issues, and the question of when peak troop density should be reached, among others, render it impossible to make simple and direct conclusions from studies of troop densities.

Still, the statistic is a useful tool for assessing the size of a military force needed in complex campaigns. In the case of OIF, this type of analysis helps make several important points about Coalition force levels. In the immediate aftermath of the regime collapse in April 2003, Coalition troop density was at the very low end of the range of the aforementioned historical cases. Since the US did not anticipate the collapse of Iraqi society and governance, nor a large-scale insurgency after Saddam was overthrown, this should not be surprising. By the summer and early fall of 2003, when CJTF-7 leaders realized a complex insurgency had emerged and that Iraq needed far more reconstruction and support than anticipated, force levels did not rise to match the new reality. The inability of Coalition forces and the Iraqi Government to provide security across all of Iraq and to control Iraq’s borders are two examples of where more forces could have been employed in 2003 and 2004.154 Though nearly every senior commander stated that he had sufficient forces on hand, they were constantly required to shift forces and adjust priorities, leaving some regions with few units to meet unexpected security challenges. The ISF during this period of the war were too few and not yet ready to meet the demands of the complex insurgency in Iraq. It is at least arguable that greater troop strength during the critical window of time in the late spring, summer, and fall of 2003 would have prevented the rise of an insurgency or at least greatly diminished its scope, though that conclusion is far from definitive.

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

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