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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 III

Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq

Chapter 9
The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq


The Context for Reconstruction Operations: Coalition Goals and US Army Capabilities

In the wake of the fall of the Saddam regime and the departure of ORHA, the CPA took over all authority for the reconstruction campaign in Iraq. In the July 2003 CPA Vision Statement, Ambassador Paul Bremer articulated the critical nature of the Coalition reconstruction mission as an imperative: “As a top priority, urgently restore physical and social infrastructure and public utilities.”5 In the list of areas that needed the most attention, Bremer placed water, power, sewage, and health infrastructure as well as the oil industry and the country’s school network.6 Given the dilapidation of the Iraqi economy and infrastructure, Bremer and the CPA sought to focus first on the large-scale reconstruction projects that would provide key benefits to Iraqi society at large. To do this, in the spring of 2003, the CPA worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers to establish two task forces—Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) and Restore Iraqi Electricity (RIE)—that would help get the country’s oil and electricity flowing again. Bremer set the date of 1 October 2003 as the date on which Iraq’s electricity and oil output would be restored to prewar levels. The CPA administrator set other goals as well. By the fall of 2003, the Coalition planned to renovate 1,000 schools and reopen Iraq’s 240 hospitals.7 In addition, the CPA hoped to replace the currency of the old Iraqi Dinar, the symbol of Saddam’s economy. In August 2003 representatives from the World Bank told Bremer that the estimated cost of the Coalition’s overall reconstruction project in Iraq would be between $55 and $75 billion.8

The US Army had only a peripheral role in the largest of the CPA’s reconstruction programs. The Army Corps of Engineers did supervise the two task forces to restore the oil sector and electrical services, but most of the workers in these efforts were civilian contractors from the United States, Iraq, and elsewhere. The requirements for the restoration of electricity and the oil industry overwhelmed the CPA staff and the organization’s capacity. Thus, reconstruction at levels below these national projects largely became the responsibility of Coalition military units although the large majority of US Army units and other Coalition forces were untrained and unprepared for these types of operations.

In 2003 the DOD did have doctrine that described and defined the military’s role in reconstruction operations. Joint Publication 3-57, Joint Doctrine for Civil-Military Operations, published in 2001, addressed reconstruction missions but did so broadly, stating that all joint force commands had to be prepared to conduct civil-military operations (CMO), the term that encompassed physical and economic reconstruction.9 As a set of missions, CMO encompassed all types of activities that enhanced the military command’s ability to achieve its objectives by improving relationships with a civilian community in an area of operation. CMO also included actions and programs that the commander was obligated to pursue to meet legal and moral obligations. Joint doctrine then suggested that all units could contribute to this broad set of operations that comprised missions such as Foreign Humanitarian Assistance and Military Civic Action.10 However, by doctrine and training, CA, engineer, and health services units were the type of organizations best suited to achieve the commander’s CMO goals.

For the US Army in 2003, the units best prepared for the reconstruction mission were its CA battalions and its engineer units. Despite its small size, the CA Branch of the US military has had a significant influence on US campaigns since the end of the Cold War when campaigns in Haiti, the Balkans, and elsewhere required reconstruction and other CMO missions.* In Iraq after April 2003 the expertise of these CA Soldiers quickly became a priceless commodity. Organized in small elements that could be detached to brigade-size maneuver units, many CA Soldiers served in Civil Affairs Teams–Alpha (CAT-A) that assessed needs, planned projects, provided liaison to local authorities and NGOs, and supervised CMO. Other members of CA units were organized in functional specialty teams that gave assistance on specific types of projects such as public works and utilities and public health. These teams did not actually do the physical work involved in the reconstruction projects. Their role was to plan the projects; coordinate with other military units, US agencies, NGOs, local authorities, and contractors, to get the job started; and then provide oversight and quality control. In 2003, 96 percent of all CA Soldiers served in the Army Reserve and were individuals with experience and skills in areas such as administration, public health, legal systems, public education, and public works and utilities. This base of experience and knowledge could not easily be found in the ranks of the Active Army and were invaluable when coordinating postconflict reconstruction efforts.11

Four CA brigades deployed to Iraq in the spring of 2003 and initially became involved with humanitarian assistance operations. Then, after the regime fell and the situation appeared to stabilize, most CA assets became absorbed into the massive reconstruction effort at various levels. Because the CPA lacked staff members experienced in reconstruction activities, many CA Soldiers became part of Bremer’s headquarters in Baghdad.12 Most CA teams, at that point, married up with tactical units and began conducting CMO missions throughout Iraq. Using their experience, skills, and connections with local maneuver units and US organizations such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), CA teams facilitated the refurbishing of schools and hospitals, repairing of bridges and irrigation systems, and other improvements to the Iraqi infrastructure.

Army engineers were also integral to CMO in general and the reconstruction effort specifically. At the national level, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) led Task Force (TF) Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) and TF Restore Iraqi Electricity (RIE), both of which were under the auspices of the CPA. However, even before the invasion began, both civilian and military Army engineers arrived in Kuwait to begin assessing the broader engineering challenges in OIF. Corps of Engineer planners designated teams to target anticipated oil and electricity projects, and immediately following the fall of the regime, Forward Engineering Support Teams (FESTs) operated throughout Iraq assessing projects, developing courses of action, and initiating contracts.13 On 25 January 2004 all engineering efforts were consolidated under one command with the formation of the Gulf Region Division (GRD). This gave the USACE control of all activities of the Pentagon’s Project and Contracting Office (PCO), which would become a key agency in the summer of 2004.

Below the level of the Corps of Engineers, military engineer units in Iraq played a significant role providing force protection, collecting and destroying enemy ordnance, and working with CA and other units to complete reconstruction projects.14 When the US Army V Corps entered Iraq in March 2003, it enjoyed the support of approximately 4,000 Engineer Soldiers, most of whom supported combat operations at the tactical level.15 By June 2003, however, the engineer force supporting CJTF-7 had grown dramatically to 19,000 Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard Soldiers serving in a wide variety of engineer units. About one-third of these Soldiers served in units that were organic to divisions like the 82d Airborne Division (82d ABN) in Al Anbar province. The other two-thirds served in echelons above division (EAD) units, which could be allocated across Iraq to support the reconstruction missions the CJTF-7 commander believed were critical to achieving his objectives. These EAD units included combat heavy battalions that specialized in vertical (buildings) and horizontal (roads) construction, multi-role bridging companies, topographical engineer detachments, well drillers, and even divers. The CJTF-7 CJ7 Engineer staff section packaged these EAD assets to support specific tactical operations at the division level.

By May 2003 all of these units became directly involved in reconstruction operations even though many were not trained or equipped for the types of projects that the Iraqi communities most needed. The best example of this mismatch in capabilities was the 130th Engineer Brigade that had been organized and trained to conduct the demolition of obstacles, the digging of defensive fortifications, and the bridging of rivers in support of the V Corps combat operations. Once the Saddam regime came to an end, the 130th had to remake itself into a brigade focused on construction. This was a painful transformation, partly because the brigade lacked construction management detachments that were critical to the type of missions required after 1 May 2003.16 Engineer units at the division level had the same challenge. Once the full spectrum campaign began, the engineers at the tactical level did not have the organic assets that would enable them to manage large-scale construction projects.

Despite the initial disparity between capabilities and needs, all types of engineer units became involved in the local efforts to rebuild the infrastructure and worked closely with CA teams and maneuver brigades to repave roads; reinforce bridge structures; dig wells; and construct schools, clinics, airfields, and roadways.17 In Baghdad, for example, the 1st Armored Division’s (1st AD’s) Engineer Brigade conducted a large-scale road construction project in Sadr City. Colonel Lou Marich, who took command of the brigade in the summer of 2003, stated the purpose of the project was “just to improve the quality of life.”18 Marich emphasized that the project had an immediate beneficial impact on the area, “We could see it as we did this road. Shops started opening up and the whole area came back to life.”19

Army engineers also filled gaps in the reconstruction campaign by focusing construction resources on Iraqi communities outside the areas targeted by US maneuver brigades and other units. One excellent example of this type of CMO mission was conducted by TF Able, an engineer group made up of Active and Reserve Component engineer battalions from across the United States. Between 2003 and early 2004, TF Able supported the 4th Infantry Division’s (4th ID’s) operations in the Sunni Triangle. The 4th ID had directed its brigades to focus operations on the cities and larger towns in their area of responsibility (AOR), leaving the smaller towns and villages largely untouched. To help improve the lives of these smaller communities, the engineers in TF Able began working with local authorities to assess, plan, and complete key construction projects.20 While focusing on basic infrastructure requirements, such as road repair and water distribution systems, the task force’s battalions also repaired schools and mosques and improved soccer fields and police stations. One of these units, the Mississippi Army National Guard’s 223d Engineer Battalion, not only refurbished the schools in the villages of Al Hamra and Al Mahazim near the city of Tikrit, but also worked with its Family Readiness Group (FRG) in Mississippi to collect school supplies for the Iraqi children in these areas.21

CJTF-7’s combat engineer units were well prepared for one critical mission: destroying captured Iraqi ammunition. Ridding the country of unexploded tank and artillery ordnance promised to create a more secure environment that would foster reconstruction and stability. However, the job was massive in scale. Colonel Don C. Young, the commander of the 1st AD’s Engineer Brigade in May 2003, recalled the scope of the unexploded ordnance (UXO) mission for his unit, “When I drove into Baghdad, I was overwhelmed with . . . the amount of ordnance just lying around. You would drive through the middle of Baghdad and you would look over into a median and it would be littered with artillery rounds and rockets just lying there.”22 Young explained that the demands of disposal of weapons caches became so overwhelming for his unit’s Explosive Ordnance Detachments that the V Corps reinforced the engineers in that effort, tasking the V Corps Artillery Brigade to assist with ammunition removal.23

For the engineer and CA units, one of the largest obstacles in the reconstruction effort was the lack of an overall Coalition plan for the reconstruction of the country. By doctrine, CMO take shape and direction from the commander’s plan and vision for a campaign. Coalition civil and military authorities had entered Iraq in March 2003 without an overarching plan for reconstruction, and both the CPA and CJTF-7 required time before they could establish a detailed concept for reconstruction. Bremer did articulate a set of important goals for the restoration of key services and infrastructure. But, according to US Army researchers who studied CMO in Iraq in 2003 and early 2004, the CPA never translated this vision into detailed guidance that was then passed on to Coalition military forces. According to the 2004 report:

The common perception throughout the theater is that a road map for the rebuilding of Iraq does not exist. There is not a plan that outlines priorities with short, medium, and long-term objectives. If such a national plan exists with the CPA, it has not been communicated adequately to Coalition Forces. Task force staff at all levels of command reiterated that there is no clear guidance coming from Baghdad.24

This report continued with the contention that in the eyes of many Soldiers, the lack of a “road map” was a symptom of the Coalition’s overall failure to plan for postconflict operations and the lack of coordination between the CPA in Baghdad and the units conducting CMO on the ground. The major result of these shortcomings was that tactical units were forced to create their own plans for reconstruction based on the priorities of the communities in their AORs, in spite of the fact that their staffs had no assurance that the projects in these plans contributed to achieving the Coalition’s larger goals. Moreover, the absence of an overall plan initially meant a severe shortage of resources. The many brigades and battalions that began to conduct CMO in the late spring and early summer of 2003 were significantly handicapped by a lack of funds. Money to pay for Iraqi laborers and construction materials, as this chapter will show, became available only gradually and through a system invented in its entirety by Soldiers on the ground in Iraq.

*The entire US military CA component comprises only 6,000 total Army and Marine CA Soldiers, or less than of 1 percent of the total force.

Chapter 9. The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq

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