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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 5
Intelligence and High-Value Target Operations


The Contributions of SIGINT and IMINT

While HUMINT became the centerpiece of intelligence operations in OIF, Soldiers conducting SIGINT and IMINT operations made significant contributions to the Coalition campaign. At the operational level, theater and even national SIGINT and IMINT assets at times played decisive roles. An operation against a major terrorist facility in June 2003 provides a good illustration of this critical use of both intelligence methods. As Coalition units established themselves across Iraq in the summer of 2003 and began conducting full spectrum operations, they had less than a clear understanding of the threats in Iraq. Often, HUMINT provided the best means of detecting and identifying threats in the built-up areas in which many American units began operating. Indeed, HUMINT assisted the 4th ID in locating and attacking a concentration of former regime loyalists on a heavily-populated peninsula northeast of the city of Balad in mid-June 2003. (Chapter 8 will discuss this operation in detail.)

Threats located in remote areas of the country were more difficult to locate using HUMINT. In early June 2003, national-level SIGINT and IMINT were critical in identifying what appeared to be enemy activity northwest of the city of Haditha in Al Anbar province. The location was less than 50 miles from the Syrian border and greatly concerned Coalition leaders. Lieutenant Colonel D.J. Reyes, the G2 of the 101st ABN, leveraged the collection assets that were part of the AO North JIATF to develop a better picture of the threat in this location and quickly identified the target as a terrorist camp.147 When Major General David Petraeus, the commander of the 101st ABN decided to mount a combat operation against the camp, Reyes began using the Joint Surveillance and Targeting Attack Radar System (JSTARS)—a theater-level IMINT asset—to gain a detailed and near contemporaneous picture of enemy strength and activity at the site.

On 11 June 2003, after indicators strongly suggested that the terrorists in the camp were planning an imminent assault against Coalition forces, V Corps ordered US aircraft and the Rangers of the 2d Battalion, 75th Regiment to conduct a quick night strike against the facility.148 The plan also directed the 101st ABN to conduct an air assault the next day to relieve the Ranger force. Armed with a clear and deep understanding of the enemy facility as well as the strength and armament of the terrorists, US forces mounted a lightning attack that caught the enemy off guard. Although the terrorists resisted the Rangers, by daylight on 12 June US Soldiers had control of the camp and found over 37 enemy killed in action (KIA) as well as a large cache of weapons that included small arms, artillery rounds, and 87 SA-7 manportable, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles.149

The employment of SIGINT and IMINT, especially the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), at the tactical level gave commanders key information in critical situations. SIGINT assets, for example, helped the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (3d ACR), operating in Al Anbar province, locate and destroy an insurgent cell in the town of Rawa near the Syrian border that helped foreign fighters enter Iraq from other Arab countries.150 As the campaign progressed, MI Soldiers began operating Tactical UAVs (TUAV), such as the Shadow and the Raven, at division level and below. These aerial platforms carried various types of cameras that provided real-time video feeds to MI Soldiers and commanders. The 2d BCT of the 4th ID, for example, used its TUAV to locate insurgent mortar crews while they were setting up their weapons for a strike against US forces.151 Based on the information from the TUAV, the brigade directed artillery fire or other types of countermortar fire to prevent the enemy crew from launching rounds at American targets. The 1st ID began using its TUAVs in the summer of 2004 to gain a better understanding of the enemy situation in the city of Samarra in Salah ad Din province north of Baghdad. In June senior leaders in the 1st ID watched video of 90 insurgents attacking an American Special Forces compound in the city, intelligence that helped shape their response as the summer progressed and the violence in Samarra increased.152

Eyes in the Sky

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) of various types played a critical role in US Army operations in Iraq. Units used vehicles like the Predator and the RQ-7 Shadow 200 to gain information about enemy activity and to literally see over the horizon. Most of the time, these UAVs remained under the control of division and brigade headquarters.

In 2003 and 2004, the Army fielded a new tactical UAV to battalion-size units in Iraq. The Raven, as this vehicle was known, weighed 5pounds, had a wingspan of 5 feet, and was transportable in three small cases. Soldiers placed either optical or infrared cameras on the Raven, using them to download real-time video from the vehicle. The UAV had a ceiling of 300 meters and could stay aloft over an area of interest for 60 minutes.

Some units, like Task Force (TF) 1-7 of the 1st Infantry Division, employed their Raven to provide overwatch of main supply routes and other critical infra-structure. Other battalion-size units used the vehicle to provide immediate intelligence during conventional combat operations. For example, during Operation Al Fajr, the November 2004 assault on Fallujah, TF 2-7 of the 1st Cavalry Division utilized its Raven to locate enemy positions on their routes of advance. Captain Michael Erwin, TF 2-7’s assistant S2, stated that the UAV provided “a pretty key piece of real-time intelligence. We were able to help save Soldiers’ lives by determining where the enemy was before we got there, instead of spotting them with our eyes.”

1st Infantry Division News,
September 2006.

Perhaps the most dramatic examples of the use of SIGINT and IMINT at the tactical level are found in Operation AL FAJR, the Coalition assault on insurgents in the city of Fallujah in November 2004. By the summer of 2004, Sunni Arab insurgent forces had taken over Fallujah and transformed it into a fortress from which they launched attacks against Coalition forces. The Coalition, working with the new Interim Iraqi Government (IIG), developed a plan to destroy insurgent forces in the city and reassert official Iraqi control over Fallujah in preparation for the first Iraqi elections in January 2005. (Chapter 8 of this study will examine AL FAJR in greater detail.) The plan for AL FAJR called for an assault involving US Marines, US Soldiers, and the ISF. In the fall as the Coalition and the IIG slowly built up forces around Fallujah, commanders began to gather and analyze intelligence on the insurgent positions, weaponry, and intent. By November 2004 the Marine units in Fallujah had been flying a considerable number of UAVs over the city for months and had developed a deep understanding of the enemy and their defenses in Fallujah.153 As the time for the assault phase of the operation loomed, IMINT and SIGINT became critical. Captain Natalie Friel, the Assistant S2 for Task Force 2-2 Infantry, an Army mechanized unit sent to assist the Marines in the assault, noted that there was very little HUMINT coming from the insurgent-dominated city.154 She and other Army MI Soldiers began to rely heavily on the imagery provided by both their own UAVs and the video feeds they received from the Marine UAVs. Friel remembered that IMINT quickly located the enemy:

Just the imagery and the UAV coverage were incredible and, for this type of fight, that was really the most important [intelligence] we could have had. Just to be able to see all the defensive positions they set up, the location of weapons on tops of roofs, seeing people set up daisy-chained IEDs or vehicles that were rigged to explode—we could see all of that through UAV feeds.155

While the IMINT identified enemy locations, Friel stated that SIGINT gave them details on who the enemy was and provided information that helped US forces distinguish Iraqi insurgents from foreign elements inside Fallujah.156 Still, it was the IMINT provided by the UAVs that made a huge difference in how the assault forces operated inside Fallujah. Captain Michael Erwin, the Assistant S2 for Task Force 2-7 Cavalry, the second Army mechanized unit that joined the Marines in AL FAJR, summed up the importance of tactical IMINT in the following way:

If you’re able to work those UAVs and prepare them and have a good route for them, you can really see how they can save lives by sending real-time pictures of the battlefield to your soldiers and your commander. We were able to keep people informed about what was going on one or two kilometers ahead of them, and I think that made a difference in terms of our soldiers being prepared.157

Erwin added, “It wasn’t just, ‘Hey, I think the enemy might be here.’ We were able to say, ‘We know where the enemy is.’”158

Chapter 5. Intelligence and High-Value Target Operations

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