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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 CJTF-7 to MNF-I: Change under Adversity

Over the course of 2003, Lieutenant General Sanchez and General Abizaid began to reevaluate Secretary Rumsfeld’s and General Franks’ original decision to turn Coalition operations in Iraq over to CJTF-7, in essence an augmented three-star corps headquarters. The Coalition command structure for OEF had provided a precedent for this decision. In Afghanistan, the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters served as the core of CJTF-180, which provided command and control for US and Coalition operations in the country. CENTCOM did not establish that CJTF, however, until mid-2002, 7 months after combat operations had begun. Additionally, CJTF-180 operated alongside the NATO-led and UN-approved International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, and in support of the Bonn Agreement, which had legitimized Hamid Karzai as the interim leader of Afghanistan. Both Sanchez and Abizaid had served together in Kosovo and had seen the incredible complexity of Coalition and stability and support operations firsthand. In particular, they understood the challenges facing a single headquarters in conducting Coalition operations at the tactical, operational, and theater-strategic levels of war in a complex and uncertain political environment.155 Abizaid was convinced as early as October 2003 that in Iraq “we were going to have to go to a four-star command . . . in order to deal with the myriad of tasks that were necessary.”156

Abizaid and Sanchez sought to address the inherent weaknesses of CJTF-7 and gradually developed a plan to transition to a sub-unified four-star command in Iraq that would report to CENTCOM. This joint command structure was not unusual; it would be similar to the United States Forces Korea (USFK) headquarters in South Korea that served under the US Pacific Command (PACOM) and commanded US and Korean forces within the PACOM area of responsibility. A four-star command in Iraq would handle Coalition theater-strategic and operational-level issues leaving CJTF-7 or a new command to focus on the tactical fight. A new command of this type, however, would require the Armed Services to make a major effort to create, equip, and man a large headquarters staff and support structure.

When they first introduced the concept in the fall of 2003, Abizaid and Sanchez were met with opposition from the Secretary of Defense and the Armed Services. The Services and the US Government were already struggling to fill the ever-expanding manning needs for CJTF-7, the CPA, and other commands operating in Iraq. Planning was well underway for sourcing the next rotation of US forces in OIF II. CJTF-180, the US command in Afghanistan, was also demanding increased resources in support of OEF. Abizaid wrestled with setting up the command and control structure for multiple operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility—CJTF-7 in Iraq, CJTF-180 in Afghanistan, Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa in east Africa—and decided to keep his main headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa to oversee a range of operations not envisioned in prewar planning. Given all of these national level requirements, it appears that DOD leadership and the National Security Council (NSC) members were reluctant to support the extended commitment to a longer occupation that a four-star command would represent.157 For all these reasons, the decision about creating a sub-unified command in Iraq was deferred.

Abizaid continued to make the case at DOD for a new command structure and in December 2003, the CENTCOM commander finally gained approval. Adding urgency to the military changes was the 15 November 2003 decision to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis in the summer of 2004, well ahead of the multiyear plan first envisioned by the CPA just a few months earlier. Initially, the CENTCOM concept was to bring the CFLCC headquarters back to Iraq. But CFLCC also served as the Army Service Component Command (ASCC) for CENTCOM, with Title X responsibilities across the Middle East that would suffer if it focused solely on Iraq. That option was eventually discarded in the spring of 2004 in favor of creating a new command.158

The new headquarters for US and Coalition military operations in Iraq would become known as Headquarters, Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I). It would provide theater-strategic and operational-level command and control for all Coalition forces in Iraq and would provide direct support to the Coalition political authority as well as to the emerging Iraqi Government and institutions. In general, MNF-I’s most important functions were to coordinate, synchronize, and deliver security, economic, diplomatic, and information operations with the US Embassy and the new Iraqi Government, leaving tactical combat operations to its subordinate headquarters.159

The commander of MNF-I would report to the commander of CENTCOM, freeing Abizaid to spread his efforts over the entire CENTCOM area of responsibility. In turn, MNF-I would command two, three-star headquarters—Multi-National Corps–Iraq (MNC-I), which would control tactical-level military operations, and MNSTC-I, which would have authority over the programs that were organizing, equipping, training, and advising the ISF, as well as rebuilding Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and other military infrastructure. MNF-I would also have operational oversight over the US Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, which was heavily involved in the reconstruction of Iraq and would enjoy the support of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force–Arabian Peninsula (CJSOTF-AP).

The actual transition from CJTF-7 to MNF-I took place in several steps in the spring and summer of 2004; a number of factors, to include enemy actions, complicated it. The DOD conducted the massive OIF I and OIF II rotation of forces between January and April 2004. This rotation involved the replacement of the V Corps headquarters with the III Corps headquarters to serve as the nucleus of CJTF-7 staff, and replacing hundreds of units and over 100,000 US Service members. Toward the end of the force rotation in late March and April, Sunni and Shia insurgent forces burst out in defiance of the Coalition and the IGC. CJTF-7 temporarily halted the rotation to deal with the attacks, and delicate shifts in command and control responsibilities were needed. The 1st AD, partially located in Kuwait at the time, was called back to Iraq and did not redeploy until June 2004. It must be remembered that the Coalition and CPA were in the process of preparing to turn over sovereignty to an IIG through this entire period. The challenges were immense.

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

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