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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 8
Combined Arms Operations in Iraq


Operation PENINSULA STRIKE: Cordon and Search in the Sunni Triangle, June 2003

Soon after the fall of the Saddam regime, US Army units began conducting operations designed to find members of the Baathist networks they suspected of planning and mounting sporadic attacks against Coalition forces. Often, these actions took the form of cordon and searches—operations in which military forces isolated specific geographic areas and conducted forced entries into houses and buildings to find insurgents and weapons. Although US Army doctrine assigned this type of mission to infantry units, cordon and search became a standard operation for armor, cavalry, and other maneuver units in 2003 and 2004 as the security environment worsened. When the threat was considered low, Soldiers conducted “cordon and knock” missions, a variation of the cordon and search in which units firmly announced their arrival before entering homes and generally used more gentle methods of entering and searching homes. Both types of operations enabled US units to capture key members of insurgent networks and collect critical intelligence that led to further operations. In fact, by the fall of 2003 many units had begun bringing sensitive site exploitation teams, often composed of military intelligence (MI) Soldiers and other specialists, on cordon and searches to exploit the documents and other materials found during these missions.

Cordon and searches became a staple of operations at the platoon, company, and battalion levels. Even so, in several significant instances, larger tactical formations employed these actions to clear major areas of insurgent activity. PENINSULA STRIKE, a multi-brigade cordon and search that integrated infantry, armor, aviation, field artillery, and combat support units serves as an excellent example of how the US Army conducted this type of mission in the summer of 2003. In May and June of that year, Coalition military forces found themselves on the receiving end of multiple attacks from shadowy forces that many believed were remnants of the old regime. In the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad, the Soldiers of 4th ID became targets of a number of enemy assaults that featured IEDs, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and small arms. Sunni Arabs densely populated this part of Iraq, consisting primarily of Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces. It was also the traditional stronghold of the Baathist Party and contained the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace. In the initial campaign to depose Saddam’s regime, Coalition forces had not conducted major combat operations in the triangle, and the regime’s military, paramilitary, and intelligence organizations, essentially still intact, had gone underground. By late May CJTF-7 and Major General Raymond Odierno, the commanding general of the 4th ID, decided to gain control of the region by identifying the locations of former Baathist officers, soldiers, and intelligence agents and using a cordon and search operation to capture these men.

The idea for Operation PENINSULA STRIKE emerged in early June after intelligence reports indicated a relatively large group of Baathist leaders had gathered in a crowded urban area located on a peninsula of the Tigris River northeast of the city of Balad. The 4th ID staff also believed this area served as the likely safe haven for enemy forces that had launched a series of ambushes on American Soldiers the previous month. The division, working with the CJTF-7 staff, began planning an operation whose purpose was to “clear paramilitary and Baath Party forces along the Tigris River vic[inity] Balad.”16 The plan’s concept centered on the use of two BCTs and other divisional units in a two-phase operation that would rely on the principles of surprise and mass. The division would unexpectedly insert a large force of close to 4,000 Soldiers into the 10-square kilometer peninsula area to locate and arrest high-ranking members of the former Saddamist regime, thereby disrupting the enemy networks based in the area.

In the first phase, elements of two BCTs would cordon off the peninsula—the 2d BCT to the south on the other side of the Tigris River and the 3d BCT north of Duluiyah, a town located on the northern end of the peninsula. To ensure the tightness of the cordon, the division added units belonging to the 555th Engineer Group (Combat) to its own 4th Engineer Battalion to establish riverine checkpoints along the Tigris River. These positions would help interdict any escape attempts by the Iraqis who lived and kept boats along the banks of the river. Prior to these units taking their positions, the 3d BCT planned to send Task Force (TF) Gauntlet, a composite group of MP and MI Soldiers, into the heavily-populated urbanized area of the peninsula to gather information and pinpoint targets, if possible.17

In the second phase of the operation, the 3d BCT in the north, supported by field artillery and attack aviation, would enter the peninsula area with two battalions. The 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry (2-503d IN), an airborne infantry battalion from the 173d Airborne Brigade under the operational control of the 3d BCT for PENINSULA STRIKE, would move a reinforced company with helicopters to three landing zones just south of the town of Duluiyah where it would establish three checkpoints to further isolate the peninsula. The 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry (1-8th IN), would then move its companies equipped with Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs) southward on the single major road through the town of Duluiyah, to seize Objective CARTHAGE, an area that made up the southern two-thirds of the peninsula. Once 1-8th IN approached the peninsula, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caracillo, the battalion commander of the 2-503d IN planned to use wheeled vehicles to move the remainder of his forces through Duluiyah and then turn south and southeast to seize areas that US intelligence believed served as havens for Saddamist elite.18

Once they reached the designated areas, the infantrymen in both battalions would conduct searches of all the buildings on their objectives, first securing and searching the sites that intelligence reports suggested served as sanctuaries for key members of the Saddam regime.19 Clearly expecting a large number of detainees as a result of these actions, 4th ID headquarters established several enemy prisoner of war (EPW) collection sites along the edges of the cordoned area as well as a temporary holding facility at the Balad airfield to the southwest of Duluiyah that could accommodate as many as 200 people. To get the detainees to the facility safely, the division ordered MP units to plan for escorting these Iraqis along ground routes and arranged for helicopters to remove the detainees from the objective area.20

In the first week of June, after the 2d and 3d BCT commanders and staffs had completed planning and rehearsals, Major General Odierno gave the green light to begin the operation. On 4 June the MP and MI Soldiers of TF Gauntlet moved into the area south of Duluiyah. Once they had completed gathering intelligence and confirming locations of specific targeted individuals, the 3d BCT initiated the next phase of the operation. Around midnight on 9 June the reinforced company from the 2-503d IN loaded into helicopters and flew to the three landing zones where they established checkpoints. At roughly the same time, the BFVs of 1-8th IN began traveling in column south through Duluiyah toward Objective CARTHAGE. With maneuver space for the BFVs limited to the narrow road running south through the peninsula, the battalion dismounted its infantrymen at key intersections and they fanned out to assigned sectors using their night vision goggles to locate and search the buildings where the elite members of the Saddam regime were thought to be located. The BFVs then drove to the southern tip of the peninsula where they served as a quick reaction force in case the infantrymen on foot met violent organized opposition.

Fortunately, the BFVs and their heavy weapons remained idle that night. With one dramatic exception, the Soldiers of 1-8th IN conducting the searches did not meet resistance as they entered the homes on the peninsula. One of the houses was believed to harbor a high-ranking member of the Baathist regime, and when the infantrymen entered that property, an Iraqi inside greeted them with a shotgun blast at close range that caught one Soldier in the chest.21 Only the Soldier’s body armor (Small Arms Protective Inserts [SAPI]) prevented this attack from becoming fatal. A small number of Iraqis did attempt to evade US forces by using boats to escape on the Tigris River; however, the engineer Soldiers manning the riverine checkpoints apprehended them.22 Lieutenant Colonel Philip Battaglia, the commander of 1-8th IN, attributed the lack of Iraqi resistance to the 4th ID’s decision to launch the operation in the middle of the night, a move that caught most Iraqis in the area by surprise.23

The 2-503d IN rolled through Duluiyah not long after 1-8th IN had rumbled past. By that time, the enemy was more alert. Gunfire from a building on the southern edge of Duluiyah hit a HMMWV belonging to the battalion’s scout platoon. First Sergeant John Bagby, who was riding in the column, recalled, “I heard and saw tracer rounds from the top of the roof of what was later determined to be a police station.”24 The ambush wounded five Soldiers in the vehicle, but did not deter the battalion from moving onto their objectives. Once they arrived, the paratroopers immediately located the houses suspected of harboring members of Saddam’s paramilitary and intelligence organizations. They met relatively little resistance as they looked for those suspected of running the networks in the peninsula area.

Once the sun rose and all of the houses of the most critical targets had been secured and searched, both battalions began systematically clearing all the buildings on their objectives. Battaglia recalled that the 120-degree heat and humidity made the Soldiers’ tasks even more difficult. The hard work, nevertheless, paid immediate dividends. At the end of the first day on the peninsula, the infantrymen had seized large caches of small arms weapons and ammunition and captured additional Iraqis they believed had connections to Saddam’s paramilitary and intelligence organizations. The patrolling and searches continued for the next 3 days, ultimately resulting in the detention of close to 400 men.25 MI Soldiers screened the detainees, found that 30 had likely connections to the Baath Party or to the suspected insurgent activities, and released the other detainees. Of those captured, the most important figures were Major General Abul Ali Jasmin, the Secretary of Saddam’s Defense Ministry and his brother, Brigadier General Abdullah Ali Jasmin, the head of the Iraqi Military Academy, both of whom turned themselves in to US forces on the first day of the operation.26

PENINSULA STRIKE was only the first of several large-scale combined arms operations mounted by Coalition forces in the summer of 2003. Based on the success of the 4th ID’s actions on the peninsula, especially the ability of such actions to round up large numbers of suspected insurgents, CJTF-7 planned and conducted a series of similar operations across much of Iraq in June and July. Operation DESERT SCORPION, which followed on the heels of PENINSULA STRIKE, featured 2 weeks of raids on Baathist and insurgent targets in Baghdad, the Mosul area, and the Sunni heartland around the city of Tikrit. During this operation, American Soldiers detained hundreds of Iraqis suspected of cooperating with the emerging insurgent network. In July Coalition forces launched another series of raids in a coordinated operation called SODA MOUNTAIN. Once again, the cordon and searches netted a large number of weapons and approximately 611 detainees, of whom 62 were identified later as leaders in the Saddam regime.27

By early August, however, evidence emerged that these large-scale operations were in some ways counterproductive. Instead of generating widespread support for the capture of those connected to the Saddam regime, Coalition forces found that their tactics fostered resentment within segments of the Iraqi population, specifically among Sunni Arabs who were fearful of their future in Iraq after Saddam. The fledgling Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) suggested to Coalition leaders that the intrusive searches and other aggressive tactics of the cordon and searches were not building support for the Coalition. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of CJTF-7, stated that by June 2003 he realized “there was a noncompliant element out there that was very willing to conduct [operations] against us to kill us and therefore we had to go out there and do these big sweeps.”28 But, according to Sanchez, operations like SODA MOUNTAIN created problems, “I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of [operations] was beginning to alienate Iraqis. . . . I started to get those indications from a variety of sources all the way from the Governing Council on down to the average people.”29 Worse was the suggestion that these large-scale operations were not only alienating some Iraqis but also inducing those who might not be disposed to insurgent activities to use violence against the Coalition. About this effect, Sanchez stated, “Unquestionably, I think, we created in this culture some Iraqis that then had to act because there were casualties on their side and also because of the impact on their dignity and respect.”30

Coalition forces continued to mount raids against suspected insurgent objectives after August 2003. However, because many Coalition military leaders came to see their mission focused on generating support from the population for the Coalition, in most cases, these actions were small, no longer the massive type of combined-arms operation that swept into the Tigris peninsula in June 2003. From the fall of 2003 into 2004, Coalition leaders attempted to plan operations that were focused on specific insurgent or terrorist targets in a specific geographic area rather than multi-brigade searches through large areas. More importantly, leaders increasingly took a balanced full spectrum approach to their operations, one that included aggressive action against a suspected insurgent objective, civic actions that tried to win the support of the Iraqis in the affected neighborhood or village, and IO to explain what Coalition forces were doing and why it was necessary to create a secure environment in that area.

Chapter 8. Combined Arms Operations in Iraq

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