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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


The Practice of Information Operations at the Tactical Level

When the Coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, US Army units at battalion and brigade level did not have dedicated IO assets in their organizations. As CJTF-7 transitioned to full spectrum operations in the summer of 2003, tactical units dearly missed this capability. However, Soldiers quickly adapted and improvised solutions to this problem. During that summer many units tasked the IO mission to the field artillery (FA) Soldiers on their staffs. After major combat operations ended in April 2003, the primary FA mission to provide indirect fire support to ground maneuver units for the most part disappeared. Of course FA units continued to perform some traditional missions. They routinely conducted counterfire missions to defeat insurgent mortar and rocket attacks on Coalition forces and provided indirect fire support to Coalition units conducting large-scale attacks on insurgent strongholds. As demonstrated elsewhere in this study, many artillery units also became maneuver forces, conducting patrols, searches, and raids.

Fire support officers and staffs also changed missions. Many were tasked by their commanders to lead the IO planning for their units. IO at the lower tactical level required the integration of existing EW, deception, PSYOP, PA, and civil-military staff sections into a comprehensive whole. For many units, fire support officers and fire support coordination cells filled that niche. These ad hoc staff sections became known as “effects cells” or “IO cells.” Some of the staff processes and training for FA officers involved with targeting and planning artillery missions loosely lent themselves to the “targeting processes” involved in IO. Artillery doctrine described the outcome of their mission in terms of “effects” inflicted on the enemy, and part of IO doctrine similarly used the effects concept in measuring the impact of IO activities on neutral audiences and hostile forces. Because of this connection, many artillery officers, such as Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Hardy, the Division Fire Support Officer for the 82d ABN in 2003 and 2004, were tasked to coordinate “nonlethal effects” and IO for their commands.41 The 1st ID and 4th ID took similar steps to implement their own IO plans.

Not all tactical units coordinated their IO efforts in this way. Some brigades created ad hoc IO planning and coordination cells out of their various staff sections. The 173d Airborne Brigade (173d ABN), for example, created two working groups—one that met twice a month to develop long-term IO strategy and a second that met twice a week to coordinate more short-term IO targeting.42 Battalion representatives at the latter meeting shared their experiences and requested resources. For this brigade, coordination was critical because of the short supply of IO Soldiers and resources. In fact, the 173d ABN conducted most of its IO with the lone attached PA team, while providing the team with modest resources to conduct their operations. The brigade combined practical steps, such as visits of the Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) to villages in its AOR with public information messages, in an “attempt to alter the Iraqi perception of Coalition forces.”43

In most tactical units, PSYOP units provided the only dedicated means of conducting the operations planned by the IO and effects cells at the brigade and division level. In 2003 and 2004, each US Army division in Iraq enjoyed the support of a single PSYOP company composed of a number of tactical PSYOP teams (TPTs) that could be attached to brigades and even battalions. These TPTs provided the primary products for disseminating tailored information directly to the Iraqi population in an AOR. TPTs supported operations at the tactical level by producing “loudspeaker scripts, handbills, posters and booklet[s] for everything from curfew announcements to the CJTF-7 rewards program to information about Transitional Administrative Law.”44 However, these TPTs were too few in number and capability for the immensity of the task in a nation of 26 million people.

Many local commanders developed their own products with themes and messages specifically tailored to the population in their AOR. Early in the new campaign, Captain Charles O’Brien, commander of A Company, 3d Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, part of the 1st BCT, 3d ID, recalled that in the summer of 2003, IO initiatives often emerged among those Soldiers that were closest to the Iraqi population, “As far as IO and themes and talking points, etc., initially we developed those at the company level.”45 Commanders knew what themes and messages were likely to work in their AORs and could get those messages distributed in the fastest manner possible. The requirement for speed in the production of IO was the most important lesson learned by Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Swan during his time in Mosul as the information officer for the 3d Stryker Brigade, 2d Infantry Division (2d ID). Swan recalled, “Probably what I learned most, and I knew this from history, 431 BC with the Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides is quoted [stating] . . . that people pretty much believe the first message they hear and they don’t look into any of the details. That was reinforced [in Iraq] . . . so we had to get the message out first.”46 In the Iraqi culture in which word of mouth and the messages spread by imams in the mosques were more important than print or television media, the need to “get the word out on the street” was vital. US forces did not excel at that skill.

In addition to supporting the reconstruction efforts and other so-called nonkinetic operations in the full spectrum campaign, PSYOP Soldiers played significant roles supporting traditional combat operations. In Mosul during 2004, the 3d Brigade, 2d ID (Stryker) made effective use of PSYOP loudspeaker teams during cordon and search operations. As the brigade’s Soldiers cleared neighborhoods, the PSYOP team informed the local population about what to expect when US troops entered their homes.47 In November 2004 Coalition forces integrated IO into the plan for Operation AL FAJR, the assault on the city of Fallujah by two US Marine Corps regimental combat teams and two US Army mechanized task forces. Unlike previous attacks on large insurgent strongholds that did not make good use of IO, AL FAJR employed IO initiatives from the IIG, MNF-I, and Marine and Army tactical units involved in the operation.

For Lieutenant General Metz, the MNC-I commander in 2004, AL FAJR illustrated the right method of IO coordination and the proper use of the core elements of IO to support the tactical fight. Soldiers from the 2d PYSOP Group used multiple OPSEC and deception measures to conceal the buildup of Marine and Army forces north of the city of Fallujah, the Coalition’s position from which the main attack was to be launched.48 The Coalition command combined this effort with other OPSEC, deception, and combat actions to focus the enemy’s attention to the south of the city. (Some of these measures involved the controversial use of PA activities by US Marines and will be discussed later in this chapter.) PSYOP teams encouraged noncombatant civilians to leave the city and to persuade insurgents to surrender. These operations were effective; estimates show that approximately 90 percent of the noncombatants fled Fallujah.49 Complementing this objective were the Coalition’s well-publicized promises to conduct major humanitarian and reconstruction operations designed to provide relief and support to the residents of Fallujah after the insurgents were destroyed. On the eve of the attack and during the tough fighting in the city that continued for weeks, electronic warfare (EW) emerged as perhaps the most important element of the Coalition’s IO effort by restricting the enemy’s access to select communications and monitoring the communication channels the insurgents were able to use for intelligence.

The use of IO during AL FAJR was not an isolated case. The 2d PSYOP Group’s Soldiers, for example, also participated in Operation BATON ROUGE, the 1st ID’s assault on insurgents in the city of Samarra in October 2004. The successful employment of IO in AL FAJR, BATON ROUGE, and other discrete operations appears to have been more productive than the efforts to build widespread Iraqi support for the overall Coalition effort. As such, these operations suggest that US forces made significant advances in tactical IO by mid-2004. However, success at the strategic and operational levels was harder to document. One critical reason was the lack of preparation for IO in the immediate aftermath of regime change, which allowed many different voices to define the Coalition’s purpose and objectives for Iraq. The IO challenges at these levels were partly a result of a broad political landscape in which the disparate ethnic and sectarian groups set their own agendas and mounted their own IO, sometimes in opposition to the Coalition’s vision for Iraq.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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