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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 6
Detainee Operations

As Coalition military forces began to conduct postconflict operations in the summer of 2003, they gradually became aware of the low-level insurgency coalescing around them. In reaction, many units began conducting operations designed to remove threats by detaining Iraqis suspected of involvement in insurgent activity or having information about the insurgent network. In some cases in this early period, Coalition forces like the 4th Infantry Division (4th ID) executed large cordon and searches, like Operation PENINSULA STRIKE in June 2003, that focused on breaking up concentrations of ex-Baathist fighters and detaining members of that enemy force. Operation PENINSULA STRIKE resulted in the detention of 400 Iraqis, several of which were high-level Baathist military officials. Many of these Iraqis, and others detained in subsequent operations, were sent to hastily-organized centralized holding facilities. Few within the Coalition forces had any practical experience with detainee operations on this scale. The Coalition had established Combined Joint Task Force–7 (CJTF-7), its military headquarters, without giving it comprehensive and clearly defined guidance on how to conduct these operations, apart from that found in United States (US) joint doctrine and the guidelines issued by Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) and V Corps in their operations and fragmentary orders in March and April 2003.1 To give subordinate units guidelines for these missions, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez and his staff began developing their own rules and policies in the summer of 2003. While the initial lack of guidance was problematic, more debilitating was that as detention requirements increased throughout 2003, they overwhelmed the US Army Military Police (MP) units in Iraq—the forces designated by Army doctrine to conduct detainee operations.

Despite the lack of preparation and capacity for large-scale detentions, Coalition forces could not avoid interning Iraqis. While CJTF-7 largely curtailed major cordon and search operations like PENINSULA STRIKE after the summer of 2003, the nature of the new full spectrum campaign in Iraq mandated that Army units at the tactical level would become involved in detainee operations. Most campaigns that focused on defeating insurgencies in the past have included the apprehension of suspected insurgents, their sympathizers, and criminals who took advantage of the unstable security environment that accompanied insurgencies. Detention often disrupted insurgent networks and, in many cases, provided intelligence to the counterinsurgent force. However, in counterinsurgency operations, gaining and maintaining the population’s political support for the host nation government and its programs serves as the paramount principle that guides operations. If the counterinsurgent’s detainee operations disaffect the civilian population, induce civilians to aid the insurgents, or drive civilians to take up arms on their behalf, then those operations will likely prove counterproductive in the final assessment. Balancing the need to detain Iraqis with the larger requirement of winning and maintaining the support of the population was a delicate task that would vex Coalition forces throughout 2003.

Beginning in the summer of 2003, the increasing demand for actionable intelligence magnified the importance of detainee operations. With violence against Coalition troops escalating and relatively little information arriving from traditional military intelligence collection and analysis methods, pressure built within CJTF-7, US Central Command (CENTCOM), and the Department of Defense (DOD) to find new means of gathering the type of information that would lead to effective operations against the insurgent forces. On the ground, this demand fell on the relatively small number of trained military interrogators who had the task of drawing actionable intelligence from a detainee population that was swelling on a daily basis and overcoming the Coalition’s MP assets. But when the demand for actionable intelligence could not be met by detainee operations conducted along doctrinal lines by MP and Military Intelligence (MI) units, maneuver forces such as infantry, armor, and artillery units began conducting their own detainee and interrogation operations. In doing this, unit commanders were making innovations that allowed them to unravel and engage the growing insurgent networks in their areas of responsibility (AORs). But the adoption of the detention mission also meant that by the fall of 2003, a large number of Soldiers had become involved in capturing, screening, and detaining suspected insurgents without the benefits of training or experience in these operations.

This chapter examines the challenges in policy and practice faced by US forces attempting to deal with detainee operations in the larger context of the full spectrum campaign in Iraq. While recognizing that detainee operations are in most cases linked closely with interrogation operations, they are by doctrine and regulation separate operations and conducted by different types of units—MP Soldiers responsible for the former, MI Soldiers for the latter. This discussion will look specifically at how the detainee mission evolved and how units at both the operational and tactical levels innovated in the face of that challenge.


Chapter 6. Detainee Operations





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