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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



When the Coalition arrived in Baghdad in April 2003 and deposed the Saddam regime, it seemed likely to most—both civilian and military—that high intensity combat operations had come to an end. The US Army, which had honed its combat capabilities to a sharp edge, began the transition to stability operations and redeployment in May. Yet, as early as mid-June the 4th ID was planning and conducting Operation PENINSULA STRIKE, a complex combined arms action that was larger and longer than some of the major engagements in the first 6 weeks of the war.

By late summer, Coalition military leaders had begun to see operations like PENINSULA STRIKE, though necessary to defeat Saddamist forces in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, as counterproductive to the overall effort to win the support of the population in an environment that was becoming increasingly insecure. After the summer of 2003, however, units continued to conduct small combined arms operations, such as raids and counter-IED and countermortar missions, that required Soldiers to behave less like nation-builders and more like warriors. Some critics have emphasized that stability operations in general and counterinsurgency operations specifically require the minimization of violence so as to avoid making more enemies. This concept drove the Coalition’s decision to cease large-scale combat operations in August 2003. But this did not remove all requirements for combat operations. As units struggled to gain control of their AORs so they could mount reconstruction, governance, and other stability operations, they were often compelled to use combat actions to suppress insurgent IEDs and mortar attacks.

What is striking is that during OIF, the US Army showed a marked ability to shift smoothly from low-level stability operations to a quickly-planned, large-scale combat operation such as the 1st AD’s Extension Campaign in April 2004. As impressive was the Army’s evolving capacity to look at a problem, such as the insurgent network in Samarra, in a holistic way, viewing combat operations as only one means of achieving objectives. In the case of Operation BATON ROUGE, the 1st ID displayed a refined ability to plan deliberately and across the full-spectrum so as to avoid high-intensity urban combat. That operation also showed the division’s lethal ability to conduct tough street fighting when the situation required.

As in many of the other chapters in this study, this discussion returned repeatedly to the flexibility and agility of US Soldiers and their use of weapons and equipment. Not only could units transition quickly from stability to offensive operations, but they could also make that shift without undertaking major changes in their organizations or armament. Most Soldiers found that their vehicles and weapons could be adapted for a variety of situations across the spectrum of conflict. The best examples of this were the M1 Abrams tank and the M2/3 BFV, designed for high-intensity conflict in open areas but adapted for use on traffic control points and employed with great effectiveness in urban areas such as Al Kut, An Najaf, and Fallujah. Perhaps more significantly, AL FAJR showed that without a great deal of preparation, the Army could make the transition to combat operations that involved joint and Coalition partners.

For the American Soldier, the 18 months in Iraq between May 2003 and January 2005 were filled with great uncertainty. Out of this period, however, one key principal emerged. Regardless of the situation in which they find themselves, American Soldiers need to be able to combine lethal combat operations with a variety of nonlethal operations at all levels to be successful. The experience of the US Army in Iraq suggests that this capability remained one of the strengths of the force even after it transitioned to the full spectrum campaign.

The previous five chapters, Part II, of this study have focused on the US Army’s establishment of command structures and operations directly involved in creating a secure environment in Iraq. The following chapters that comprise Part III, Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq, describe the US Army’s participation in rebuilding the country. For the Coalition, success meant more than just defeating the insurgency. To create a stable Iraq ruled by a representative government, US Soldiers became heavily involved in reconstructing the physical and economic infrastructure of the nation, introducing new institutions of governance to Iraqi life, and fostering the type of security forces supportive of the new state. The US Army was not alone in these monumental projects. In 2003 and much of 2004, the Coalition’s political headquarters had authority for the reconstruction, governance, and ISF programs. Additionally, nonmilitary organizations made significant contributions to these aspects of the campaign. During the 18 months that followed the toppling of the Saddam regime, however, it was the Coalition’s military forces, with their manpower and organizational capacities, that formed the solid core of these efforts to remake Iraq.


Chapter 8. Combined Arms Operations in Iraq

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