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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 V


Chapter 14


Unity of Effort and Unity of Command

The absolute necessity for unity of effort and command stands as one of the clearest lessons to emerge from the historical record of this period of the war in Iraq. Placing great weight on the imperative of unity of command and effort is hardly an original insight; military commanders and theorists through the centuries have emphasized that principle and it is currently a major tenet of US Joint and Army doctrine. Despite that fact, the principle was not well practiced during the first year in Iraq. The US civilian and military chains of command struggled through difficult changes during the critical transition from Phase III to the full spectrum campaign. US unity of command and effort, and hence overall effectiveness, suffered during what was a very important time in OIF.

The difficulties in prewar planning and in the coordination of operations within the interagency effort of the US Government have been chronicled in other studies. Those challenges are not part of the purview of On Point II, except to assess their impact on military operations. The December 2002 decision to give the DOD the lead role in postwar Iraq was in part an attempt to avoid the lack of unity of effort that critics had pointed out in previous US missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan. The potential benefits of that decision, however, were not realized due to interagency friction and to lack of coordination within the DOD. The DOD did not create ORHA until 20 January 2003. The level of prewar coordination between ORHA, other agencies in the US Government, CENTCOM, CFLCC/Third Army, and Combined Joint Task Force–IV (CJTF-IV) was therefore minimal. Garner and his staff secured the eager cooperation of Lieutenant General David McKiernan and the CFLCC/Third Army, but not until after Baghdad was captured. ORHA barely had time to open its offices in Baghdad before it was replaced by the CPA, whose chief had a strikingly different mandate for the US mission in post-Saddam Iraq than that set forth in the limited prewar planning effort.

The Coalition did not announce the creation of the CPA, the sovereign political power for Iraq, or the naming of Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III as its chief until 6 May 2003. Bremer and his advance party arrived in Iraq about a week later and had to take the normal bureaucratic steps to set themselves up as an organization. The CPA had to establish and promulgate numerous policies as an occupying power, and create mechanisms to bring competing Iraqi exile groups and local parties into the political process. At the same time, the CPA needed to coordinate its operations with the operations of the Army’s V Corps (soon to become CJTF-7) headquarters, as that military organization was undergoing its own transition. It was no surprise that the CPA and Coalition military forces in Iraq were not prepared to effectively deal with the enormous problems of post-Saddam Iraq.

The DOD also reconfigured the military chain of command during the middle of this most crucial period. Between April and July 2003, the CENTCOM commander retired and that command pulled the designated land component command for the Middle East (Third Army) out of theater, replacing it with V Corps, a headquarters that had made few preparations for the mission. To add greater complexity to this set of command transitions, V Corps underwent a change of command on 14 June. These new commands had to literally “create” their organizations, establish themselves in their new roles, and grapple with the unexpected emergence of resistance to the Coalition that had fundamentally changed their mission. When it was created in June 2003 as a sub-unified command of CENTCOM, CJTF-7 lacked significant interagency assets, and its relationship with CPA was not clearly understood. The DOD and the Army were arguably too slow in providing CJTF-7 with the additional staff and resources it needed for its responsibilities in Iraq. With the ORHA to CPA transition having just occurred in May 2003, CJTF-7 did not have a fully functioning interagency organization in Iraq with which to synchronize its efforts in June. CJTF-7 also had to assume the additional tasks of integrating the forces of more than 30 nations, each with their own capabilities and limitations, into the new campaign in Iraq. CENTCOM and CJTF-7 ultimately did not have a robust political headquarters with which they could partner and together conduct the coordinated nation-building efforts required in Iraq. Not until June 2004, more than a year later, did the United States put in place the civilian and military leadership structure in Iraq commensurate with the strategic challenge.

The failure to ensure unity of command and effort in the early stages of OIF offers several critical insights for future campaigns. Most important is retaining key commanders and key commands in place during the transition between phases of an operation to prevent the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness seen during the spring and summer of 2003. The Army teaches noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and junior officers never to use terrain that includes an avenue of approach as a dividing line between different commands lest an enemy exploit the fact that no single unit is responsible for the terrain. Similarly, command and control of operations should not be handed off to the nearest available command during the transition between Phase III and Phase IV. The United States should also develop mechanisms to establish unity of command between the senior military headquarters and the senior civilian organization in a theater or country during Phase IV operations. Though they are outside the purview of the Army, these new mechanisms should include new interagency policies and procedures. Both sets of changes should have as their goal the effectiveness, efficiency, and unity of effort needed to turn battlefield success into strategic success.

Chapter 14. Implications

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