ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign
The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005
Transition to a New Campaign
Intelligence and High-Value Target Operations
Tactical Intelligence: The Paradigm Shifts
Overall, most of the progress in intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination at the CJTF-7 level had a relatively small impact on the operations at battalion-level and below. It is clear that at times intelligence products within CJTF-7 did provide key information that allowed tactical units to act in their AORs. Fast noted that the CJ2 did fill in information gaps for tactical units; analyzed enemy activities that crossed unit boundaries; and tasked operational-, strategic-, and national-level IMINT and SIGINT assets to fill priority intelligence requirements (PIR) at critical moments in tactical operations.18 This type of top-down dissemination of intelligence was particularly important in the efforts to locate and capture HVTs. The CJ2 also empowered tactical units through its JIATF which focused on the structure and funding of the insurgent network. Relying on a number of intelligence disciplines, the JIATF helped disrupt insurgent groups in Baghdad, Mosul, and other cities by interrupting the flow of financial support to enemy networks.
The tactical units themselves—the companies, battalions, and brigades—collected and analyzed the bulk of the intelligence they used to drive operations against insurgent organizations or other threats. The intelligence brigades and battalions within CJTF-7 and its subordinate units had little choice but acquiesce to this new manner of information gathering and analysis. The enemy situation was so fluid and so local in character that the US Army intelligence system designed to push down information from division to brigade and then to battalion became increasingly irrelevant. This is not to say that the division G2s and the division-level MI battalions ceased operations. However, their traditional functions and processes were less important than lower-level efforts in the Army’s new campaign.
The ascending role of tactical HUMINT in OIF should not surprise anyone familiar with counterinsurgency warfare. Put simply, the counterinsurgent’s task is to disrupt and destroy the insurgent network while maintaining the support of the population. If the counterinsurgent force commander determines that this is only possible through violent action, he must know who, when, and where to attack. To do otherwise, to attack too broadly or hit the wrong targets, risks alienating the people he hopes to attract to the side of the host-nation government. Still, accurate and focused attacks are impossible without actionable intelligence. One recent study of counterinsurgency warfare described the situation facing the counterinsurgent this way: “Without good intelligence, a counterinsurgent is like a boxer flailing at an unseen opponent. With good intelligence, a counterinsurgent is like a surgeon cutting out the cancers while keeping the vital organs intact.”19 In 2004 the staff of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry (Stryker Brigade Combat Team [SBCT]) operating in Mosul, restated this concept in a more emphatic if simpler way: “Intel drives maneuver in a Counterinsurgency (COIN)—period!”20
As noted earlier, while operations evolved in the summer of 2003, commanders at brigade and battalion levels quickly assessed the nature of the security environment in their AORs and initiated intelligence operations using their own Soldiers and systems. This was a major shift in practice. US Army doctrine gave MI Soldiers and units the formal authority to gather, analyze, and disseminate intelligence. The US Army’s tactical units, nevertheless, had only a handful of MI Soldiers serving on the staffs of battalions and brigades. The MI officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) at these levels did little of their own collection and, other than the armor and infantry battalion S2 sections that could employ organic scout platoons to locate and watch enemy activity, had few assets to do collection. Instead, the Army had designed the MI system to push information from corps and division levels down to brigade and battalion levels where the S2 would make that intelligence relevant for the commander.
To make tactical-level MI assets more capable, many units in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 reorganized their intelligence (G/S2) sections. At division-, brigade-, and in some cases battalion-level, this transition usually involved the creation of a G2X or S2X—an officer or NCO who would focus solely on the collection and analysis of HUMINT. Unlike the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams that deployed to Iraq in the latter part of 2004, S2 sections in tactical units, by standard organization, did not contain this position. However, as it became evident that HUMINT was critical to success in Iraq, commanders often decided to appoint an officer as the S2X. The 1st Cavalry Division Artillery (DIVARTY), a brigade-size unit that before deployment to Iraq in 2004 converted from a fire support element to a maneuver unit and took the title 5th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), provides a good example of this innovation.21 In conventional operations, the DIVARTY S2 section consisted of five Soldiers who assisted in identifying and locating enemy targets for artillery strikes. The operational demands in Baghdad required Colonel Stephen Lanza, the DIVARTY commander, to augment his S2 section through the creation of an S2X team that gathered HUMINT by conducting interrogations of detainees, coordinating the attached THTs, and collaborating with Special Operations Forces (SOF) and other agencies involved in the collection of HUMINT. Ultimately, the commander charged the S2X with the task of creating actionable intelligence that could enable his operations against the insurgents active in his AOR.22
The 101st ABN tackled the difficulties in collecting and analyzing HUMINT in a similar way. Lieutenant Colonel D.J. Reyes, the division G2, not only created a G2X in 2003, but sought to expand the reach of its HUMINT operations by creating a JIATF. The JIATF was not a doctrinal organization but an innovation that brought together all of the American and Iraqi agencies in northern Iraq involved in HUMINT collection and analysis. The task force mission statement succinctly explained its purpose: “The AO North Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF) gathers intelligence, coordinates and synchronizes intelligence operations, and coordinates conventional/special operations in order to identify and neutralize hostile individuals and groups and their support networks in Northern Iraq.”23 Periodic meetings, coordinated by the 101st ABN G2, brought together the division’s intelligence officers with representatives from the FBI, American Special Operations Forces, CIA, Iraqi Security Forces, and the intelligence organization that belonged to the KDP and the PUK. Reyes also integrated representatives from national-level IMINT and SIGINT agencies, such as the National Security Agency, into the task force. Certainly, other American units established informal collaborative relationships with SOF and CIA teams in their AORs to share intelligence. The JIATF in AO North, however, created a more formal forum in which the various agencies exchanged and vetted information.
Initially, much of the intelligence generated by the JIATF focused on enabling cordon and search operations and other combat missions directed at destroying hostile organizations and individuals. As a result, Reyes noted that eventually the JIATF added the division’s Targeting and Integrated Effects Working Groups to its organization and thus became involved in information operations as well. Success in a number of critical operations validated the task force’s capabilities. In June 2003 the JIATF identified a terrorist camp in Al Anbar province near the Syrian border, a target that US forces destroyed in a lightning raid. One month later, the task force developed the information that led to the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the sons of Saddam Hussein, in the city of Mosul. This chapter will examine both of these operations below.
The 101st ABN’s creation of the JIATF was a significant innovation. At lower levels, operational and organizational change was often equally dramatic. The experience of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery (4-27th FA) of the 1st AD provides an excellent example of how intelligence operations came to dominate unit tactical-level activities in OIF. Lieutenant Colonel Brian McKiernan, the commander of the 4-27th FA, pointed out that his unit gave up its traditional fire support mission in May 2003 and became a maneuver unit responsible for full spectrum operations in the Al Karkh district of Baghdad. McKiernan explained that his unit’s situation in Baghdad required him to create his own information:
I would . . . say that [the situation] is exactly the opposite of major combat operations in terms of producers and consumers of intelligence. I would say that in major combat operations, typically the tactical units are consumers of intelligence and less producers of intelligence. In other words, intelligence in many respects is being collected, processed, and turned into actionable intelligence at the division level and then acted on and used to drive the brigade and below missions or the execution of their missions. I think it is quite the opposite in this environment where if you don’t have the ability as a battalion commander or as a battalion formation to go out and create that intelligence and you are waiting for the brigade to hand you a target and all of the information that is required to execute that target, then you are probably not going to find yourself executing very much in the way of offensive operations.24
Believing that his unit had to mount focused combat operations to disrupt and destroy the insurgent networks active in his AOR, the 4-27th FA began to conduct its own intelligence operations. McKiernan stated:
You literally have to go out and create the information and turn it into intelligence which you can then act on yourself. Even some of the division targets that got passed to brigade, that got tasked to my organization, didn’t have enough specificity to allow me to conduct a raid. But rather than saying, ‘We don’t have enough information,’ and just basically telling your higher headquarters, ‘Here are the following requests for information (RFIs) so that I can go ahead and execute this mission,’ our approach was more, ‘This is what I know. What can I do to fill in these other gaps in intelligence using my network, using my assets?’25
Noting that the requirement for tactical units to conduct their own intelligence operations represented a major shift away from standard procedures, McKiernan stated, “For most [Soldiers] I think that was probably a significant mindset change.”26
This was an understatement. As McKiernan suggested, the environment in Iraq forced the doctrinal paradigm to shift. In the brigades and battalions, S2 sections began to create aggressive collection plans because, as many units found, they rarely received actionable intelligence from higher echelons. Situations changed too quickly and most information pushed down became outdated quickly. Nevertheless, at the tactical level, the information needed was HUMINT and neither battalions nor brigades had trained HUMINT assets organic to their organizations. MI organizations and doctrine did allow the divisional MI battalion commander to assign a small number of THTs to brigades. However, as noted earlier, these teams were small in number and limited in manpower. Even when they were augmented with THTs, tactical units often expressed hunger for more intelligence.
The 4-27th FA is one example of a unit that made this transition to operations designed to gather and exploit intelligence. There are many others. The 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry (2-503d IN), operating near the city of Kirkuk as part of the 173d Airborne Brigade (173d ABN), made several significant changes in organization to meet the demand for intelligence. The battalion command stated its stance on conducting intelligence operations in this way: “Treat information as your most valuable weapon. . . . Real life, unfortunately, is not like Ranger school, in that there’s no [Ranger instructor] to tell you where the enemy is. You usually have to figure that out for yourself.”27 To gather this critical information, the 2-503d IN used their companies and platoons to establish relationships with local leaders and ask questions. To organize and analyze the intelligence gleaned from missions in neighborhoods, the battalion’s companies created their own intelligence section out of their fire support teams.28 These innovations were critical, the battalion believed, to collecting the key bits of information that would allow the unit to move quickly to catch insurgents who were often on the move.
The 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry (1-24th IN), a Stryker-equipped unit that conducted operations in Mosul in late 2004, launched a more radical transformation in its attempt to collect actionable intelligence. The battalion commander and his staff determined that the S2 section was by doctrine and organization simply unable to meet the demand for actionable information.29 The unit then decided to expand the small S2 section into a much more muscular organization with 25 Soldiers, mostly drawn from elsewhere in the unit. The new S2 section included a plans cell, an operations cell, and a detainee operations cell. This reorganization integrated the attached THTs into the detainee operations cell, and information from that cell moved through the plans cell where Soldiers coordinated it with intelligence from other sources, to give the battalion the ability to conduct analysis and targeting.30 The battalion recognized IMINT and SIGINT as “enablers,” but believed that “HUMINT is the COIN of the Realm.”31 To back up this assertion, the unit integrated the attached THTs into all operations in their AOR. The battalion also began working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to target the enemy more precisely. This reorganization, the unit stated, led to tangible improvements in security in its AOR. Attacks decreased by 80 percent over the battalion’s 12 months in Mosul, and the battalion captured or killed most of the identified terrorists in the area.32
This shift in the MI paradigm was quite visible to leaders at higher levels. Major General Fast, the CJTF-7 CJ2, watched as this transition occurred. She believed the overall operation was very HUMINT-centric, with approximately 95 percent of the intelligence used at the tactical level generated by tactical units themselves.33 Having said that, Fast contended that some units were better than others in conducting intelligence operations. She singled out the 2d BCT of the 1st AD as one unit that had successfully transformed its intelligence system.
Colonel Ralph Baker, the commander of the 2d BCT, arrived in Baghdad in May 2003 and quickly realized he would have to develop his own intelligence. This revelation meant creating a new system that would be accepted and adopted fully by his subordinate units. Baker first tripled the size of the brigade S2 section and added an S2X to its staff.34 He also directed the expansion of the S2 sections within his battalions and then charged his maneuver units to actively collect information by developing sources among the Baghdad population. The brigade took the innovative step of giving Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to Iraqi informants to assist in pinpointing insurgent locations in the complex urban terrain of the capital city.35
To synchronize these HUMINT collection efforts and ensure unity of effort, Baker empowered the brigade S2 to track all the Iraqi contacts acquired by subordinate units and develop the HUMINT it received into cogent analytical products that enabled the maneuver elements to act decisively.36
Successful intelligence operations bred additional success. Numerous Soldiers in OIF have described how HUMINT led them to conduct a raid on a particular location or, in some cases, a cordon operation that isolated and searched larger areas. Once on the objective, the unit—usually a squad or platoon—would identify targeted individuals, confirm their identities, and remove them for questioning and possibly detention. Tactical questioning on the objective, a method of asking Iraqi citizens simple direct questions about identity, locations, and recent events often gave Soldiers critical information. In addition, many units also developed sensitive site exploitation (SSEs) teams, which included THT personnel and other MI Soldiers when they were available, who accompanied the operation to interrogate individuals and collect documents, computers, forensic evidence, and any other information or materials that might prove valuable. In many cases, analysis of that material led to subsequent raids or other operations. This method proved the key to disrupting insurgent cells before they had a chance to flee the AOR.
Intelligence and the Transition to Full Spectrum Operations
The HUMINT Gap
Tactical Intelligence: The Paradigm Shifts
The Muhalla 636 Operation
The New Paradigm’s Growing Pains
Interrogation Operations in the Abu Ghraib Prison
Language and Culture
The Contributions of SIGINT and IMINT
High-Value Target Operations
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