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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 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq


Information Operations in Support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: The Overall Effort

From the inception of planning for operations in Iraq, US commanders and their planners ensured that IO became integral in the structure of OIF. The deception, EW, and CNO aspects of the IO plan in support of OIF remain classified. Nevertheless, some details of the PSYOP portion of COBRA II, the plan for ground operations in Iraq, are available and establish that the planning for this IO element began more than 3 months before the invasion. Teams within the 8th PSYOP Battalion of the 4th PSYOP Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which supported CENTCOM, began leaflet and broadcast operations, targeting Iraqi Armed Forces and the Iraqi population in December 2002.22 Some of their success could be seen in the number of Iraqi units that did not resist the Coalition invasion and in the generally positive reception afforded to Coalition troops by most Iraqis in March and April 2003.23

The nature of full spectrum operations in Iraq after May 2003 presented Coalition leaders with a set of challenges not found in the conventional phase of OIF. The invasion of Iraq moved with obvious logic, speed, and a visible outcome from its start in Kuwait to its end in Baghdad. The new campaign that began in May 2003, however, was more complex and featured economic, political, and other lines of operation for which progress was slow and difficult to measure. The creation of a new Iraq, like the development of the United States, did not happen in a brief time and did not move linearly from start to a logical end. Developing an IO plan to support the overall campaign and communicating progress to multiple audiences was thus extremely difficult.

In mid-May 2003, during the transition from decisive combat operations to Phase IV operations and the change of command within CENTCOM, both Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) and V Corps (soon to become Combined Joint Task Force–7 [CJTF-7]) made IO a line of operation in their campaign plans. The focus of these operations switched from undermining Iraqi military morale in support of the invasion to encouraging Iraqi support for the Coalition’s political objectives. V Corps initially labeled this part of the plan “perceptions,” a category of tasks intended to “integrate and leverage Coalition efforts to establish a secure and stable environment” and “positively influence the Iraqi population in support of Coalition initiatives and aggressively counter destabilizing influences.”24 This objective included four major subtasks: inform the Iraqi people about progress toward forming their new government, neutralize anti-Coalition elements, neutralize anti-Coalition propaganda, and influence Iraqis to support Coalition efforts to build a new Iraqi Government.25

Army and Marine units at nearly every level in CJTF-7 also included IO in their subordinate planning efforts. Naturally they supported the Coalition’s broad efforts, tailoring them to their specific AORs. The 4th Infantry Division (4th ID), for example, spent considerable effort developing and executing a plan to communicate its rules of engagement to local Iraqi leaders to prevent misunderstandings as it hunted down former regime elements in the summer of 2003.26 Putting these IO plans into action, as previously mentioned, was difficult. The environment included severely fractured Iraqi audiences competing for their share of power in a post-Saddam Iraq. Terrorist and insurgent groups opposed any Coalition efforts, and international opinion and domestic public opinion were ambivalent at best.

One detailed study of the effectiveness of IO in OIF completed in 2005 by a student at the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) revealed four sets of shortcomings. First, the author of the study concluded that doctrine was not sufficiently clear with regard to the proper linkages between IO and PA regarding how to legally influence domestic, enemy, and neutral audiences. Second, the study found that Army units at division and lower echelons lacked sufficient staff and other resources to carry out IO. Third, it concluded that insufficient intelligence support was used in developing and carrying out the IO plan. Finally, the study claimed, “Commanders, staffs and IO officers did not understand how to integrate IO with all the tools (CA, PA, maneuver, fire support, logistics, etc.) available to them to shape the information environment in which they would operate.”27 These four issues reoccur repeatedly when examining IO in OIF.

The problems created by lack of staff and other resources should have surprised no one. When the CFLCC staff redeployed out of Iraq in May and June 2003, it took with it the Army’s main IO assets, including the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (JPOTF) that had been created for the initial invasion. Thus, once DOD and CENTCOM established CJTF-7, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez and his staff had no theater-strategic and operational-level PSYOP resources and had to rely on support from the IO units within the US Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC) located at Fort Bragg.28 This delayed and complicated the provision of high-level technical support, making it almost impossible to quickly or effectively react to insurgent IO. According to the SAMS study, “What this meant in practical terms for the CJTF-7 was that it could not produce its own operational-level PSYOP products locally and tactical units had to rely upon their assigned tactical PSYOP organizations for more and more support.”29

At such a critical time in the summer of 2003, IO support for operations in Iraq was completely inadequate for the needs of CJTF-7 and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The SAMS study contended that the “CPA could not compete against the Iraqi rumor mill, partisan Iraqi media outlets, or even foreign satellite broadcasts such as Al Jazeera” and to complicate matters further, “leaders in CPA had no understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the [military] assets at its disposal.”30 According to an Army analysis of IO at the tactical level of the campaign in Iraq, almost all brigades lacked trained IO personnel and had limited IO capability. The authors of this analysis stated succinctly, “The brigades lack[ed] the resources to win the IO fight.”31 Many of these problems did not begin to improve until late 2003, when CENTCOM redeployed the JPOTF to Iraq.

Neither the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) nor the CPA had any real capability to execute IO when they arrived in Iraq. The CPA proclaimed freedom of the press and assembly on assuming power in May 2003, but it had limited media resources of its own to disseminate the Coalition’s major objectives or to explain its particular decisions.

The CPA also failed to rapidly create or support fledgling Iraqi media outlets that could compete in the “marketplace of ideas” and fill the vacuum that opened after Saddam Hussein was deposed. This was perhaps most damaging to the efforts to publicize the work of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which enjoyed the support of no media outlets in the summer of 2003. The lack of planning for sophisticated and dedicated media support to these important organizations was a critical shortcoming that could not be made up for by highly effective military IO, had it existed. There was a direct connection between the level of popular support enjoyed by the Coalition and the Coalition’s ability to improve the quality of life, physical security, and stability in Iraq. Army doctrine stated that IO supported other lines of operation—military, economic, and political—and that principle became critical in the new campaign in Iraq. Soldiers had to use IO to tell the story of how the Coalition was making significant improvements in sewage projects, water treatment plants, and the creation of a new education system. Otherwise, most Iraqis would remain essentially ignorant of the Coalition’s overall effort to improve the country.32 Success or failure in IO could buttress or undermine the overall success in building Iraqi support for the Coalition and the new Iraqi Government.

Many participants in OIF viewed the inability to fully address Iraqi expectations and needs as one of the chief failures of the Coalition IO effort. Colonel Ralph O. Baker, commander of the 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division (1st AD) in Baghdad during 2003 and 2004, stated that the biggest issues he faced were the “credibility challenges we encountered among the Iraqis . . . a consequence of the initial mismanagement of Iraqi expectations before we ever crossed the berm into Iraq.”33 Perception management was a constant problem; Iraqis had enormously unrealistic expectations and perceptions about how quickly life would improve after Saddam was ousted. These expectations were inflated by Coalition pronouncements before the war that the average Iraqi would be much better off when Saddam and his regime were out of power. Baker asserted, “The concept of ‘better’ proved to be a terrible cultural misperception on our part because we, the liberators, equated better with not being ruled by a brutal dictator. In contrast, a better life for Iraqis implied consistent, reliable electricity, food, medical care, jobs, and safety from criminals and political thugs.”34 The cultural gap between expectations of both groups was exacerbated by the proclivity of some Iraqis to believe in conspiracy theories. Some American Soldiers encountered this problem in the form of the man-on-the-moon analogy. Colonel Baker recalled repeatedly hearing the following form of that complaint: “If you Americans are capable of putting a man on the moon, why can’t you get the electricity to come on? If you are not turning the electricity on, it must be because you don’t want to and are punishing us.”35 Most explanations about problems with antiquated infrastructure and time required to ship in new equipment did little to regain the confidence of distrustful Iraqis.

Assessing the effectiveness of PSYOP techniques presented another challenge. During the summer of 2003 tactical units received IO products from higher headquarters containing messages that were often too broad to resonate with the diverse population in Iraq. As the Army had learned in the Balkans, to be effective IO themes and messages had to be tailored to the specific audience. Colonel Baker emphasized this point stating, “IO planners at commands above division level appeared to look at the Iraqis as a single, homogeneous population that would be receptive to centrally developed, all-purpose, general themes and messages directed at Iraqis as a group.”36 To address some of those weaknesses and lack of capability, CJTF-7 contracted with private firms in late 2004 to begin producing PSYOP products and news stories in support of the IO line of operations plan. The use of those stories in Iraqi media outlets, despite their truthfulness, generated some controversy in 2005.37

The Army’s 2004 tactical IO analysis noted an additional problem. Across Iraq in 2003 and early 2004, commanders did not or could not ensure synchronicity of the messages and effects. The report stated, “A vertically integrated, horizontally synchronized IO campaign simply did not appear to exist” in Iraq.38 CJTF-7 did steadily increase its IO capacity as it revamped its staff from a tactical to a theater-strategic headquarters in the late summer and fall of 2003. IO plans then improved over time and commanders increasingly incorporated IO into all their operations. By the time CJTF-7 transitioned authority to Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I) and Multi-National Corps–Iraq (MNC-I) in the summer of 2004, US commanders had learned key lessons about IO. The first MNC-I commander, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, became a particularly forceful proponent for IO in Iraq, arguing that strategic and operational commanders needed to become as aggressive and offensive-minded with IO as they were with other elements of warfighting.39 General George W. Casey Jr., who took command of MNF-I in July 2004, held a similar attitude toward IO, introducing the idea that Coalition forces had to communicate a “drumbeat of steady progress” to the Iraqi population to win their support.

Signs of the improvement in IO could be seen in the Coalition’s preparations for and responses to the creation of the Interim Iraqi Government (IIG) in June 2004, the AL FAJR operation against the insurgents in Fallujah in November 2004, and the Iraqi elections of 2005. But as the 2005 study noted, a critical window of time had passed in the summer of 2003. MNF-I and MNC-I corrected many of the IO problems first encountered in 2003, “but the CPA and CJTF-7 had lost the opportunity to shape Iraqi perceptions of the Coalition.”40

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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