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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


Conclusion: The Struggle for Unity of Command and Effort

Since the 19th century, military theory has emphasized the importance of vesting all decisionmaking authority in one commander. By adhering to this principle, a concept known as unity of command, a force can better direct all actions toward one overarching goal. Despite the importance of unity of command, US joint doctrine recognized that during stability operations and counterinsurgencies, the primacy of US, host nation, and Coalition governments makes that principle impossible to achieve. In these cases, doctrine calls for the creation of unity of effort (a principle closely related to unity of command) between the military instrument of power and the other elements of national power (diplomatic, information, and economic) through the establishment of processes, policies, and working relationships.191 While both of these principles are deceptively simple in concept, historically they have proven to be extremely difficult to implement.

Actual unity of command between the senior US military commander and the senior US civilian representative on the ground in a foreign country is not strictly possible given existing US law. Since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986, the military chain of command flows from the President, to the Secretary of Defense, to a geographic combatant commander (such as the US CENTCOM commander), and then to the deployed commander (usually a JTF or CJTF commander). The ambassador, the senior civilian US representative to a foreign country, reports through the State Department to the President. While the ambassador has primacy, it is often pro forma rather than actual when a sizable military force is conducting operations in the country. In some cases, this division of command has led to apparent difficulties. Critics assailed the US performance during the 1990s in the Balkans, and more recently in Afghanistan, for allowing this division of authority to obstruct unity of effort. The President’s decision in January 2003 to place the DOD in charge of postwar Iraq can be seen as an initiative to improve unity of effort by providing for unity of command.

Unity of effort in OIF was severely handicapped, however, by constantly changing command relationships in 2003 and 2004. DOD, CENTCOM, and CFLCC had taken formal control of the planning for all phases of OIF, but the overwhelming majority of their effort was focused on Phase III of the plan, the invasion of Iraq. The plans that did exist offered little for the Phase IV operations in Iraq and were based on the belief that an amorphous mix of other US Government entities, international organizations, and new Iraqi leaders would quickly take over responsibility from CENTCOM once Saddam was overthrown. The ORHA reported directly to DOD, not to CENTCOM, and it was not created until late January 2003. General Garner did not arrive in the Mideast with his skeleton staff until just days before the invasion began, leaving Coalition leaders almost no time to confer before launching their attack. The military and political shortcomings inherent in these arrangements were quickly apparent to everyone involved in April and May 2003 as Iraqi governance collapsed. The decision to replace the ORHA with the CPA in May further complicated the situation for Coalition military forces. US Army units found themselves with far too many tasks to accomplish and with radically shifting postinvasion guidance with which to operate. The decision to redeploy CFLCC back to the United States and hand over its responsibilities to V Corps in mid-June further complicated the military situation.

Between May and December 2003 unity of command in the US Government did exist because both the CPA and CENTCOM reported to DOD. On the ground in Iraq, however, CJTF-7 and CPA essentially operated in parallel chains of command without a headquarters in Iraq to direct their efforts. CPA Chief Bremer reported directly to Rumsfeld, although, as he has stated in his memoirs, he also believed he had a direct line of authority from the President. Lieutenant General Sanchez and CJTF-7 were in direct support of the CPA, but reported to General Abizaid and CENTCOM in Tampa, Florida. All of this meant that unity of effort depended on cooperation between CJTF-7 and the CPA. Questions of policy, coordination, and priorities of effort in 2003 could only be resolved by the Secretary of Defense. Complicating this arrangement was the presence of Coalition forces from many nations, and the lack of an Iraqi Government with which to work. By the middle of 2004 these unexpected realities in Iraq would drive US military leaders to devise a wholly new command and control structure and campaign plan, not to wrap up the loose ends of the invasion but to fight and win a new type of campaign.

The 15 November 2003 agreement to transfer sovereignty to Iraq by the summer of 2004 heralded a significant change in the structure of decisionmaking. In December 2003 President Bush directed the CPA Chief to report to Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Advisor.192

This decision moved the unifying authority between the Armed Forces and the CPA further “up” the US Government’s chain of command. It did, however, bring decisionmaking more directly into the purview of the President’s interagency body, the NSC. Additionally, the IGC and other Iraqi leaders participated directly, if informally, in decisionmaking before the turnover of sovereignty in June 2004.

These important relationships changed again after 28 June 2004 and the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. John Negroponte became the first US Ambassador to the new Iraqi Government and became responsible for the policy oversight and coordination of all US Government programs in Iraq. General Casey and the MNF-I staff worked closely with Negroponte, creating their campaign plan and coordinating operations with the US Embassy to ensure integration of the civil-military efforts; however, the military chain of command still reported to the President through the Secretary of Defense. Finally, with the establishment of Iraqi sovereignty on 28 June, US agencies and military forces were then in the position of operating in Iraq at the invitation of the new IIG, giving the Iraqis authority over US operations in Iraq. The challenges of those complex partnerships would open up a new chapter in OIF in 2005.

Senior civilian and military leaders struggled throughout 2003 to establish unity of effort and to implement a campaign plan that fit changing policy objectives in post-Saddam Iraq. Only in mid-2004 with the establishment of the MNF-I did the United States create a military command structure that was adequately organized and resourced for the campaign in Iraq. Casey’s assumption of command of MNF-I symbolized the end of a yearlong process focused on creating the proper structures for the Coalition’s military campaign in Iraq. General William Wallace, in retrospect, viewed MNF-I as the culmination of a very difficult transition, “Those divisions [of labor between the US Embassy, MNF-I, and MNC-I] were aligned appropriately, I think, but not until after we went through the pain and agony of realizing that a single headquarters couldn’t do it.”193

In retrospect, Lieutenant General Sanchez, the CJTF-7 commander, felt that despite the US Government’s effort to plan and coordinate for OIF, his command was left to face almost insurmountable obstacles while reinforcements and resources were slow in arriving. To further explain his viewpoint, Sanchez drew a historical analogy between that first year in Iraq and the experience of Task Force Smith, an unprepared and underequipped American battalion that suffered high casualties after being hastily deployed to South Korea in the summer of 1950 to repel invading North Korean forces.

I used the term Task Force Smith all over again to describe our efforts during the first 14 months—the summer of 2003 through June 2004. We had great American Soldiers and leaders on the ground who were working their hearts out with the resources available to accomplish an impossible task. In the end, I believe, when you do a very thorough analysis that throws CPA into that overall Task Force Smith construct, we will find that the American Soldier, our Divisions, our leaders and the CJTF headquarters were what kept the Iraq mission from being a catastrophic failure.194

Some may view Sanchez’s analogy as inaccurate or even bordering on hyperbole. The comparison drawn by the CJTF-7 commander, however, reveals the visceral disappointment he felt as he considered what might have been accomplished in Iraq had the transitions in command been accomplished differently.

It is not yet possible to determine with any certitude how big a role the initial inadequacies of the military command and control structure played in the rise of the insurgency as well as religious and ethnic conflict between May 2003 and June 2004.195 Certainly some of those tensions were going to be released as soon as Saddam Hussein’s ironclad grip on Iraqi society was destroyed, regardless of Coalition military or political actions. That those tensions, once released, would unleash extreme political centrifugal forces and generate severe violence exceeded even the pessimists’ darkest fears. Nevertheless, it is clear that the United States did not sufficiently plan for nor effectively employ all the instruments of national power in post-Saddam Iraq to deal with these tensions as well as the myriad other tasks inherent in occupying and rehabilitating a country such as Iraq. It is reasonable to believe, however, that had better military planning for Phase IV of OIF been accomplished before the war, had a more robust and effective command and control structure been rapidly put in place during the summer of 2003, and had a larger number of military forces been on the ground in 2003, the Army would have been better able to contribute to the creation of a new Iraq.

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

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